Court: If parents disagree, child must be immunized

Arguing against immunizing her child, the mother said that due to the high level of immunizations in Israel, he was protected by “herd immunity.”

August 22, 2017 20:35
2 minute read.
Ichilov hospital and Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv.

Ichilov hospital and Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/GELLERJ)

When parents disagree over immunizing their child, the parent wishing to have the child immunized gets his or her way, the Tel Aviv Family Court ruled.

A mother and father who never married and are no longer a couple, but have been jointly raising their almost three-year-old son, disagreed over whether their child should be immunized. Their names are under a court-ordered gag order.

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Represented by lawyer Yaakov Katzin, the father argued that the child should be immunized, while the mother was against it.

The issue required a swift decision, as the boy will enter his first public child care situation with a large number of other children on September 1.

The decision was released last week, but its partial public release, with key names crossed-out, only occurred on Tuesday.

Arguing against immunizing her child, the mother said that due to the high level of immunizations in Israel, he was protected by “herd immunity,” the concept that non-immunized children can avoid diseases if enough of the children around them are immunized.

She also attacked companies producing immunizations as having a financial interest in contending that immunizations are medically necessary.

The court ruled against the mother, mostly on the recommendations of a neutral, court-appointed medical expert, whose opinion the father supported, as well as the Health Ministry’s general clear recommendation for children to get immunized.

While acknowledging that the state does not require immunizations for children where both parents want to forgo them, the court said the “best interests of the child” principle meant it should follow the medical expert’s and ministry’s recommendations.

The medical expert rejected the herd immunity argument, saying it was morally problematic to rely on others to immunize when the mother refused. Further, the expert said in the globalization age of migrants coming into Israel from many developing countries, herd immunity was a flawed concept even in an otherwise Western-style country.

The expert also criticized information from the “Hisun” (immunization) website, which the mother relied on, as inaccurate.

Moreover, the expert said the failure to immunize could unacceptably endanger other children their son would come into contact with at day care.

Katzin said the case had taken almost 18 months to resolve and that the best interests principle should have resolved it in favor of the father much earlier.

Even as issues relating to immunization have been litigated in the courts before, he said the case was crucial in sending a broader message to Israeli society in a time when there is increased resistance to immunization. Resisting immunization is “a threat to the child and to society,” he said.

The court allowed the mother to forgo two immunizations that are usually given at a younger age, meaning the child was already beyond the danger zone age for the diseases those immunizations address.

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