Co-Parenting & Preparing Your Family for the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Vaccine Basics

There is a lot of hope and excitement as Orange County begins its vaccine rollout. Many parents are wondering if they will be able to have their children vaccinated. While there are two vaccines currently authorized for emergency use in the US, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one available to minor children, and then only to children 16 years of age or older. Though this is disappointing for many, there is hope on the horizon.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have started testing their vaccines on teenagers. It is assumed that both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca (who have also developed COVID-19 vaccines that are expected to be available soon) will begin trials for children as well.

As they prepare for the possibility of their children receiving the COVID-19 vaccine this year, many parents in a co-parenting situation have questions about navigating this complicated relationship while still getting their children the medical care they need.

Who Makes Medical Decisions in a Co-Parenting Relationship?

When parents separate or divorce, they must establish a custody agreement. The custody agreement provides provisions for both the child's physical and legal custody. Where physical custody is related to where and whom a child lives with, legal custody involves who has decision-making power when it comes to important child-rearing matters. When making medical decisions, like vaccination, the parent with legal custody has ultimate decision-making power.

Legal custody involves decisions related to a child's:

  • Medical care
  • Dental and vision care
  • Education
  • Religious upbringing
  • General welfare

Often, parents are granted shared legal custody. This means that they will work together to make important legal decisions for their children. Sometimes, parents who share custody outline which parent is responsible for which decisions in their parenting plan. This is a tactic that can help keep responsibilities clear and reduce conflict.

It is not uncommon for one parent to be granted sole legal custody. This can happen for several reasons, including the parents' inability to resolve disputes, or the courts deciding that a parent is unfit, or that it is in the child's best interests for only one parent to have legal custody. When someone is granted sole legal custody, they are the ones who will be able to make a vaccination decision for their minor children.

California's Age of Consent for Immunization

There is some confusion over whether minors can consent to receive vaccinations. For example, if your 17-year-old child wants to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, can they get it without your consent? At this time, no, they cannot.

This confusion arises from the 2012 California law AB 499 (also called Chapter 652, Statutes of 2011). This law allowed minors 12 years and older to consent to confidential medical services to prevent STDs without their parents' consent. While children already were able to consent to diagnostic and treatment services, this law's prevention aspect empowers minors to get specific vaccinations (for Hepatitis B and HPV) and other prevention services.

Law AB 499 does not make provisions for any other vaccinations or immunizations, including COVID-19. To learn more, review the California Department of Public Health's page on laws and regulations.

What Happens When There Is a Dispute?

When co-parents can't agree on an important medical decision, they should first turn to their custody agreement to determine if anyone has ultimate decision-making power. If neither parent has this responsibility, they may wish to work with a mediator. If you elect to work with a mediator, you must also secure legal representation.

Before working with a mediator or taking your matter to court, it is a good idea to consult with your lawyer to ensure that you understand all of your legal options.

What Can Co-Parents Do to Prepare for the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Making important medical decisions for your child can be stressful when you are in a co-parenting relationship. Even if you and your child's other parent are on good terms, if you anticipate they will have a different opinion than you, you may feel anxious approaching the subject. Keep reading for tips on how you can start preparing to make this decision today.

Talk to Each Other

As you consider the near future when you and your child may receive a vaccine, one of the best things you and your co-parent can do to prepare is open a dialog with each other on the topic. If you anticipate that you and your co-parent will disagree, do your best to give them the space to voice their perspective and their reasoning. Though this can be difficult, letting people talk and be heard can help keep the conversation calm and civil.

If appropriate, you may wish to involve your child in these conversations.

Speak with Your Child's Pediatrician

Your child's doctor is your best resource. Not only are they an expert in their field, but they also know your child's full medical history, and they know you and your family. They are an ideal person to go to when you and your co-parent have questions or concerns about vaccinating your child. They will be able to use their wealth of knowledge and experience to guide you in making this important decision.

Do Your Homework

No matter your stance on vaccination, spend some time researching the available vaccines. Right now, Moderna and Pfizer have EUA status. This means they are approved for emergency use. The FDA has a very helpful website with a wide range of information on the COVID-19 vaccines as well as fact sheets and information on the approval process. This information can help you make an informed decision regarding vaccinating your child when the time comes.