German court favors vaccination of child in parents' dispute

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Germany’s highest court ruled on Tuesday that a father could have his child vaccinated according to a schedule recommended by authorities even though the mother of the girl is opposed.

The decision comes as governments and health organizations in Europe try to reverse a fall in vaccination rates that has led to outbreaks of highly contagious and potentially deadly diseases such as measles.

The German Supreme Court said in a statement that the father wanted the girl, who was born in 2012, to be immunized against diseases including tetanus, measles and polio, as recommended by the German Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO).

The mother, who is separated from the father and in whose home the child lives, opposed vaccinations because she feared their risks outweighed the danger of getting sick and mistrusted “lobbying by the pharmaceutical sector and by doctors”, the court said.

The court said it had sided with the father because it recognized STIKO’s vaccination recommendations as the medical standard, and because there was no evidence that they posed an unusual risk to the child.

Its decision was based on a German law that lets it hand the right to make important decisions regarding a child to the parent whose proposed solution is most beneficial to the child, even if that is not the parent in whose home the child lives.

STIKO, a panel of experts appointed by the German health ministry, recommends a schedule of childhood immunizations but uptake is voluntary.

Lack of public trust in potentially life-saving vaccines has become an important global health issue. Experts say negative attitudes may be due to controversies over suspected side-effects and hesitancy among some family doctors.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) warned last month that gaps in vaccination coverage against measles had lead to several outbreaks in Europe in the past year, with both children and young adults affected.

Italy’s cabinet last week approved a law obliging parents to vaccinate their children against infectious diseases as politicians spar over a spike in cases of measles, possible complications of which include blindness and encephalitis.

Reporting by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Catherine Evans