Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi has said that if a 12-15 year-old wishes to receive the jab and is judged to be “competent” then his or her decision would overrule the parents’ refusal for their child to be vaccinated. The Telegraph has more.
In an interview with Times Radio on Sunday morning, Mr. Zahawi was asked what NHS clinicians could do if a parent says no to their child being vaccinated but the teenager says yes.
He replied: “The NHS is really well practised in this because they’ve been doing school immunisation programmes for a very long time so what you essentially do is make sure that the clinicians discuss this with the parents, with the teenager, and if they are then deemed to be able to make a decision that is competent then that decision will go in the favour of what the teenager decides to do.”
This idea that a 12 year-old can overrule his or her parents in a medical decision is based on the notion of Gillick competence, which derives from a 1985 House of Lords legal judgment (Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority) which provides that children under 16 may be able to consent to their own treatment if they are deemed to have sufficient intelligence, competence and understanding to appreciate fully what the treatment involves.
However, as the U.K. Medical Freedom Alliance (UKMFA) explains in a recent open letter, the judgment in Gillick makes it clear it is to apply only in exceptional cases.
In terms of the applicability of Gillick Competence, this cannot be assumed under current circumstances. Gillick Competence is the principle deriving from the English and Welsh case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority  UKHL 7, which provides that children under the age of 16 may be able to consent to their own treatment if they are believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding fully to appreciate what is involved in their treatment. The judgment in Gillick makes it clear it is to apply only in exceptional cases:
“No reasonable person could read it as meaning that the doctor’s discretion could ordinarily override parental right. Illustrations are given in the text of exceptional cases in which the doctor may take the ‘most unusual’ course of not consulting the parent. Only in exceptional cases does the guidance contemplate him exercising his clinical judgment without the parent’s knowledge and consent.” (per Lord Scarman at paragraph 181)
It has been stated that:
“The right to decide on competence must not be used as a licence to disregard the wishes of parents whenever the health professional finds it convenient to do so. Health professionals who behave in this way would be failing to discharge their professional responsibilities and could expect to be disciplined by their professional body.”
Yet it is reported that guidance has been circulated to NHS trusts stating that most 12 to 15 year-olds should be deemed “Gillick competent to provide [their] own consent” over jabs.
The UKMFA sets out the general criteria for Gillick Competence:
For a child to even be considered Gillick Competent, they MUST have “a sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable them to comprehend fully what is proposed” and:
1. understand the nature and implications of the decision and the process of implementing that decision;
2. understand the implications of not pursuing the decision;
3. retain the information long enough for the decision-making process to take place;
4. be of sufficient intelligence and maturity to weigh up the information and arrive at a decision; and
5. be able to communicate that decision.
Deciding competence must be decision-specific, child-specific, made with the specific factual context in mind and based on the available evidence. It can only be determined by a medical practitioner who knows the child, not any other personnel administering the vaccines in schools.
Furthermore, following the High Court case of An NHS Trust v A, B, C and A Local Authority  EWHC 1445, Mr. Justice Mosytn also stated the decision of the child must be given freely. He stated: “Dr Ganguly was also clear that the decision that was reached by A was hers alone and was not the product of influence by adults in her family. Dr Ganguly did not detect in her any sign of distress when she set out her position to her.”
The UKMFA suggests that for Covid vaccination free consent is undermined by the huge social pressure to accept vaccination: “Children are often subject to peer pressure from their fellow pupils. Children also look up to their teachers and can be influenced by the media and celebrities.”
The letter considers that no child “would be considered able to consent to the vaccine”, not least because “data regarding long-term safety and risks that would be required for fully informed consent does not yet exist”.
The JCVI appears to agree about the lack of long-term safety and risk data, declining to back jabs for healthy 12-15 year-olds precisely because it cannot be sure of the scale of the unquantified risks:
The committee is of the opinion that the benefits from vaccination are marginally greater than the potential known harms but acknowledges that there is considerable uncertainty regarding the magnitude of the potential harms. The margin of benefit, based primarily on a health perspective, is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15 year-old children at this time. As longer-term data on potential adverse reactions accrue, greater certainty may allow for a reconsideration of the benefits and harms.
The JCVI also accepts that the vaccines do little to prevent transmission, stating: “The committee is of the view that any impact on transmission may be relatively small, given the lower effectiveness of the vaccine against infection with the Delta variant.”
This admission from its own vaccine advisory committee should be fatal for the Government’s plans for vaccine passports, which are entirely premised on the notion that vaccines prevent transmission (and thus that by limiting entry to the vaccinated transmission is avoided). Should be fatal, but won’t be, given that the Government has now shown it doesn’t actually care what the JCVI thinks.
If it wasn’t shocking enough that the Government is to push ahead with vaccinating children despite being told by its advisers that the benefits are too small and the risks too uncertain, it is staggering that doctors and schools are being told that children as young as 12 should be allowed to overrule their parents’ wishes on vaccination. This undermines parental authority over their children and will further erode trust between parents and both schools and doctors. It shows once again that the present Government’s convictions are anything other than conservative.
Stop Press: The UKMFA has sent an urgent email to the four U.K. Chief Medical Officers urging them to heed the advice of the JCVI and not authorise the vaccines for 12-15 year-olds on non-medical grounds.