In Rare Move, Israeli Court Orders Parents to Vaccinate Their Baby for Tetanus

Social services petitioned the court after the parents of the one-year-old, who suffered a burn to his foot, refused to inoculate the child

An infant is vaccinated at a 'Tipat Halav' baby clinic, Israel.
Dan Keinan

In a rare move, an Israeli court ordered on Monday that a couple from the country's north vaccinate their one-year-old infant against tetanus, despite their objection to do so.

The parents, who reside in Hadera, asked to stall the Hadera Family Court's verdict so they could file an appeal to the District Court, but the judge rejected their request.

Social services petitioned the court to instruct the parents to vaccinate the toddler after he had suffered from a second-degree burn on his foot that was caused by a bonfire.

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His parents took him to a private doctor, who gave him initial treatment and later referred him to a health care maintenance organization to receive further medical attention.

A pediatrician who examined the toddler recommended to the parents to vaccinate him against tetanus but the pair refused, prompting the pediatrician to report the incident to the district health office. In addition, a doctor representing the Health Ministry intervened and recommended that the baby be vaccinated, but the couple insisted not to allow the procedure.

The parents argued in court that it is unnecessary to vaccinate their son while providing a written family physician's opinion to back their decision. The opinion by the doctor stressed that 10 days had passed since the injury happened and no indication for infection had appeared.

The Health Ministry said the baby should be vaccinated, fearing the burn might lead to a tetanus infection, and that the vaccination must be administrated as soon as possible since its effectiveness decreases as time passes since the injury. The vaccination is effective up to 21 days since the exposure to the tetanus bacteria.

Health Ministry representatives claimed that the private doctor representing the parents is known to strongly oppose vaccinations and "made extremely harsh comments against the health establishment."

The parents voiced concern that their son would develop a strong reaction to the vaccination, while social services did not provide a written opinion on the matter.

The judge later instructed that the parents vaccinate the boy the following day. In his ruling he wrote that if they don't do so, welfare services are allowed to ask the Israel Police to help enforce the decision. 

He also added that he "isn't ignoring the stance of the parents and their right to make decisions pertaining to their minor son, including essential decisions, and their representative is right in saying that it is a right that is also related to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. I am under the impression that this is a couple of good parents who look after their young boy, and their actions as they perceive them are in favor of their minor son and his well-being."

However, the judge pointed that "the minor's well-being is the most important consideration. I am convinced that in this specific case in light of his injury, the benefits of an inoculation are bigger than the risks it poses. I don't think that the parents' stance can be accepted, and the court ought to use its authority" to force the parents to vaccinate their child. 

The verdict is considered rare because there is no other known case in Israel in which the court ordered parents to vaccinate their children against their will.

In the past, the court had discussed cases where separated parents were undecided over whether they should vaccinate their children; in those instances the court accepted the recommendations of the Health Ministry as well as the stance that generally, children should be vaccinated. In one of the most recent verdicts which dealt with the vaccination of a 12-year-old who didn't want to undergo the procedure, the court ruled that the child's stance is irrelevant.