If you think a vaccine for COVID-19 will alleviate all the problems the virus is causing, think again.
As I recently discussed, many parents are having disagreements about whether it is safe to send their kids back to school. As the number of cases in schools continues to climb – there were 342 cases in Ontario schools on the day I wrote this column – the possibility of a second lockdown keeps growing.
But a vaccine will fix everything, right? Sadly no.
If there is a vaccine approved for use in Canada – keep in mind there is no guarantee that one will ever be developed – that will open up a new battleground for parents as they decide whether it should be given to their children. I’m certainly not an anti-vaxxer and my children have had the full round of shots demanded by health authorities. But if there is a new vaccine developed to deal with COVID-19 within the next 12 months, I think parents have the right to wonder if it is safe.
No vaccine has been developed this fast
As this U.S. medical website notes, “Vaccine development is a long, complex process, often lasting 10-15 years.” The coronavirus has only been in Canada for eight months, and various labs are furiously working on ways to counter it. While their efforts are commendable, I don’t fault parents for being wary of having chemicals put into their children’s arms without knowing the long-term effects.
And it is not just people on the fringes who question how safe a vaccine will be, as shown by this lively debate between Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and Children’s Health Defense chairman Robert Kennedy Jr. It opens with footage from an interview Dershowitz had done weeks before, in which he says there is no constitutional right to refuse vaccination and that “the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm.”
Kennedy muses that Americans no longer trust the government with their health, citing a 2010 report that found the risk of vaccine injury is 2.6 per cent, meaning that “one in 40 people are injured by vaccines.”
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Our faith in government is shaken
Kennedy is not the only one skeptical about the safety of a vaccine that has not gone through years of testing. A September article in Forbes states that “65% of respondents would initially think a vaccine ‘was rushed through’ if made available this year.”
I think many Canadians are starting to share that same skepticism about government-mandated health protocols. Our faith in elected officials and health leaders has been seriously shaken since the virus shut down the country in March. That feeling of mistrust poses a real problem when and if a “safe” vaccine is developed and distributed for use.
Parents now wondering if they should send children to school may be divided about whether to give them the new vaccination. It is easy to see how that dispute will end up in legal battles. One court has already ruled that if a vaccine is recommended by the government, children should receive it even if one of the parents does not agree.
While judges are supposed to rely on legal principles and not public opinion when making judgments, but there are persuasive arguments coming forward against vaccines, from Kennedy and others.
Charter challenge possible
While I suspect that court battles about the COVID-19 vaccine will be very fact-specific, there is also a potential Charter challenge lurking here. After all, s. 7 states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
For divorced parents, the development of a vaccine will present its own problems if they disagree about whether the child should be inoculated. Since vaccinations fall under the health-care umbrella, any decision-making in this area resides with the custodial parent. If there is joint custody, both parents will either have to come to an agreement or rely on litigation.
Judges don’t want to be parents
As fellow family lawyer Steve Benmor stated in a discussion with me on the risks of the COVID-19 vaccinations, “Judges do not like to be asked to be parents. They don’t want that job.”
A Superior Court of Justice echoed that sentiment in a recent ruling that sided with a parent who wanted her son to return to school over the objections of the child's father, who insisted the child take his classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The parents] have delegated the authority to make the decision respecting their child's in-person versus online attendance at school to me, a judge who has never met the parents and who will likely never meet the child,” Justice Andrea Himel wrote in her judgment. “Unfortunately, for some separated and divorced parents this is another battleground, one more arena where their child may become the prisoner of the war.”
I agree that parents, not the courts, should be making vaccination decisions. If there is a vaccine and if the government makes it optional, all parents will then have to do their research and make the best decision for their child.