Vaccination and Child Welfare: Does vaccine hesitancy constitute medical neglect?

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CWRP Information Sheet 219E. Toronto, ON: Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal.

In the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the issue of vaccination and vaccine hesitancy is more salient than ever. Among currently-eligible youth under the age of 18, 73% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 47% are fully vaccinated as of early August 2021 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021). Though vaccine coverage in Canada for routine early childhood vaccine-preventable diseases is generally high, gaps in coverage place children and communities at greater risk of disease (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2021; Phadke et al., 2016). This info sheet reviews vaccination and vaccination hesitancy in the context of medical neglect and Canadian case law. The info sheet was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Chair in Child Welfare funds awarded to Dr. Barbara Fallon.

This fact sheet provides an overview of the Canadian policy context with respect to routine childhood vaccination and its intersection with the child protection system. In particular, this fact sheet reviews both provincial/ territorial legislation and case law to examine the extent to which vaccine non-compliance is viewed by the child protection system as constituting medical neglect. Best practices related to working with vaccine-hesitant parents are also noted.

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Information Sheet #219