A court has ordered that an eight-year-old girl receive all her childhood immunisations, after her mother, who supported homeopathy, tried to prevent it from happening.
In a judgment released this week, the Family Court of Australia refused to grant the Victoria mother an injunction against her former husband — the girl’s father — that would have prevented him taking their daughter to a doctor for vaccination.
The mother was opposed to conventional vaccination and had followed a homeopathic vaccination regime for her daughter, even after the girl contracted whooping cough when she was five.
However, her father and stepmother supported immunisation and in 2010 had taken her — without the mother’s knowledge — to get vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, polio, Hib, measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal C.
They were concerned not only for the girl’s health but also for that of her baby half-sister, who was not old enough to be fully vaccinated.
A homeopathic practitioner, who said he treated patients using “constitutional and anti-miasmic homeopathic treatment”, gave evidence to the court in support of the mother’s case.
He claimed homeopathic vaccination was safe and effective, and also repeated a widely-discredited link between conventional vaccines and autism.
However, Justice Victoria Bennett found that not immunising the girl would expose her to “unacceptable” risk, based on expert evidence from a Melbourne paediatrician.
“Dr J’s evidence was that post-initiation vaccine surveillance, the widespread use of vaccination on millions of children, and published articles in peer reviewed scientific journals suggested to him that traditional vaccination is relatively safe. I accept that evidence as correct,” she said.
“The risk of harm as a result of traditional vaccination is not so high as to outweigh the risk of infection.”
She ordered that the girl receive all vaccines on the current National Immunisation Program Schedule, including any catch-up doses she might need, with the exception of Gardasil.
A decision on whether the girl should receive that vaccine could be made at a later date, Justice Bennett said.
Justice Bennett criticised both parents in her judgement, saying the most pressing issue relating to the girl’s wellbeing was not immunisation, but the “dreadful and ongoing parental conflict” between her mother and father.
This is not the first time a court has ordered immunisation.
The Federal Magistrates Court made a similar ruling in 2010, while earlier this year a Queensland Supreme Court judge ordered that a baby born to a mother with hepatitis B receive immediate immunisation, despite the parents’ religious and philosophical objections.
Read the full ruling here.