The mother of a child who was under the care of the Department of Children and Family services (hereinafter also “the Department”) and who, after having turned 12, had become eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, filed suit with the juvenile court requesting that it ordered her son not be required to receive the vaccine due to religious exemption and to the many side effects her child had from medication.

In reply to her claim, the Department asked the court to follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding vaccination, which required the child to be vaccinated unless his doctor advised otherwise. The juvenile court authorized vaccination of the child in accordance with CDC guidelines, finding no evidence had been presented of an appropriate religious exemption, but required the Department to ensure that the child’s pediatrician be consulted in order to get his/her approval. The mother challenged such order, claiming that it failed to accord the required level of deference to her religious choices as the child’s parent or to respect her nonreligious concerns about the possible impact of the vaccine on his health, but the juvenile court confirmed its holdings.

By judgment of 6 March 2023, the Court of Appeal of California affirmed the juvenile court’s judgment. In so ruling, the appellate judge attached decisive weight to the fact that “COVID-19 was one of the 10 leading causes of death for children as of October 2021, COVID-19 infections were then increasing, [the child] was in contact with multiple individuals at his placement and his school, the Pfizer vaccine had been found safe for children [of his age] age and [his] pediatrician had determined there were no known contraindications to [him] receiving the vaccine. Moreover, [he] was not averse to receiving the vaccination, leaving it to the court to decide”. The Court concluded that getting the vaccine was in the child’s best interest and dismissed his mother's suit.

Reference: In re Matthew M., Court of Appeal of California, 6 March 2023.

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