Divorced Parents at Odds Over COVID-19 Vaccinations and Child Safety
Posted: April 6, 2022
As of April 2022, over a quarter of children between the ages of 5 and 11 in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For kids between the ages of 12 to 17, the vaccination rates are even higher at 59 percent. However, recent surveys from the Kaiser Foundation suggest that the public still harbors many concerns regarding the long-term side effects of the vaccine.
Some parents are concerned that the vaccine could have long-term side effects, such as causing infertility, though there is no scientific evidence to support this claim as of yet. Research into the long-term implications of COVID-19 vaccination is still ongoing and likely will be for years. But with the publication of studies like one detailing the risks of myocarditis and the vaccine, parents have become more hesitant to vaccinate their children — even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that heart inflammation following vaccination is extremely rare.
Amid debates regarding the vaccine’s safety, pressure is being put on families to make tough decisions around the well-being of their children. Some divorced parents, in particular, have found themselves in conflict about whether or not it is safe for their children to receive the vaccine — resulting in bitter custody disputes.
Custody Battles Over the Vaccine Mandate
Currently, coronavirus vaccination battles are turning up in courts and at the highest levels of government as divorced parents initiate custody battles centered heavily on debate over the vaccine’s safety.
Last year, Jeannie Figer took her ex-husband, Don Figer, to court because he would not permit her to vaccinate their 11-year-old child. Although Don Figer is himself vaccinated, he believed that drug makers had not adequately tested the vaccine on children. Until more data became available, he felt that the potential health effects of the vaccine could be worse than the risk of COVID-19 for their young daughter.
“The potential downside of waiting, given the severity of COVID for children, is small,” said Don Figer. “I wanted to wait and see this experiment play out on other people’s children, not on my child.”
In December of 2021, another man was sued by his ex-wife as she sought to alter their custody agreement so that she could vaccinate their children — though he was not comfortable doing so. Eventually, the husband consented, and the couple settled the issue out of court. Still, such proceedings shine a light on the mounting confusion and complexity around the vaccination issue.
The mother’s lawyer, Margaret Brady, stated, “Vaccines up until COVID haven’t really been an issue.” According to Brady, custody agreements in New York City typically provide guidance regarding what procedures parents must follow when major medical decisions are necessary for their children. So to have serious legal challenges over medical issues is not always common.
COVID seems to be bucking this trend with increasing conflict over the vaccination issue. Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vaccinations for minors last year, this situation has become increasingly common.
For instance, in Scottsdale, Arizona, a family law attorney named Kiilu Davis is currently handling three cases related to parental disagreements regarding the safety of the vaccine.
Vaccinations as an International Issue
Court systems outside of the U.S. are struggling with similar issues. For instance, judges in Canada are penalizing anti-vaccination parents by imposing gag orders that restrict visitation rights and prevent parents from speaking about the COVID-19 vaccine with their children.
During a case in Ontario, Justice Francine Van Melle ruled that a father opposing COVID-19 vaccinations could not give his child any information stating vaccines are ineffective, unsafe, untested, or could pose health risks for the child. As with many of these cases, the conflict arose when the mother became upset that the father refused permission to vaccinate their child, so she sued the father.
Taryn Simionati, the lawyer who represented the mother, stated, “There have always been parents who disagree on regular vaccines for children, but that wasn’t too common. Parents disagree more about the COVID-19 vaccination for children.”
Parents Taking Drastic Measures to Avoid the Vaccine for Their Children
Currently, the vaccine is available for children who are five years old and up in Canada and the U.S. Furthermore, Pfizer Inc. and their partner, BioNTech SE, are in the process of obtaining approval from the FDA for children as young as six months to receive the vaccine.
In Canada, Michael Gordon Jackson is intentionally keeping his seven-year-old daughter from her mother because he does not want their child to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has stated that Jackson has been in hiding with his child since early November. In January, the RCMP responded by issuing a warrant charging Jackson with abducting his daughter in contravention of a custody order.
“Every day, I pray you’ll be home,” Maricar Jackson, the child’s mother, stated on local television.
In a January interview with an online talk show, the father openly admitted to keeping his daughter without permission from the mother. He appeared wearing a black hat and sunglasses and told the host, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, that he would do everything in his power to prevent his ex-wife from getting his daughter the COVID-19 vaccine. About the vaccines, Jackson said, “I had to protect my daughter from it.” At the time of this writing, Jackson and his daughter still have not been located.
Verdicts Favor Vaccination
As custody issues continue to arise over the vaccination of children, the trend seems to show that verdicts are supporting the parents’ right to vaccinate.
Arizona attorney Kiilu Davis has pointed out that since the CDC recommends that everyone eligible should be vaccinated, most cases proceed in accordance with these guidelines. “Most courts don’t like to get involved in raising a child,” said Davis. “But the courts are falling in line with getting the children vaccinations.”
It follows that, in the case of Don Figer, the court did not rule in his favor. Judge Richard Dollinger of the Supreme Court in Monroe County ruled that Figer’s ex-wife has every right to get their daughter vaccinated.
As Judge Dollinger said, “The court determines that the father’s objections, while sufficient to raise some substantive concerns, are not sufficient to deter this court from concluding that the best interests of the child require the issuance of an order that the child be vaccinated as soon as possible.”
However, such verdicts are unlikely to put an end to new cases. Lingering uncertainty over the vaccines’ safety is set to cloud the issue for years to come, pushing divorced or separated parents to turn their children’s health and vaccination status into an ongoing legal debate.