Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine approval for young people could cause conflict for divorced parents

Click to play video: 'To allow the shot or not? Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine approval for young people could cause conflict between parents'
To allow the shot or not? Alberta’s COVID-19 vaccine approval for young people could cause conflict between parents
WATCH ABOVE: Parents don't always agree on how to raise their child, and being divorced or separated can exacerbate disagreements. This week, Alberta became the first province to give the COVID-19 shot to anyone 12 and older. As Kendra Slugoski explains, it's a big decision that may cause conflict between co-parents – May 13, 2021

Dragging a young student to a medical appointment is not easy, but for Tyler Bell, his COVID-19 shot was one he wasn’t going to miss.

For the past year, Bell said he has been cautious in school and “not going out much.” Getting the vaccine, he says, will make him “feel safer.”

His stepmom, who brought Bell to the Edmonton Expo vaccination centre, said the family didn’t have any doubts.

“Never,” said Lisa Baydala. “It’s going to make him safer. He’s also got asthma so we wanted to make sure he was extra safe in case he caught COVID.”

On Monday, May 10, Alberta opened up COVID-19 vaccine bookings to residents as young as 12 — just days after Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Canadians 12 and older.

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“In other provinces you have to be older than 30, in some cases 40 to get vaccinated,” said Jason Kenney at a news conference on Tuesday.

“I’ve seen many parents say how it was even more emotional to book those appointments for their kids, than when they booked appointments for themselves.”

As of May 11, 2.4 per cent of Albertans aged 12 to 14 had received their first dose and 8.5 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 had theirs. The premier said on Tuesday, more than 11,000 people aged 12 to 29 booked in a for a shot.

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Kenney also told Albertans that vaccine clinics could roll out in schools as well.

Stacey Lee, partner at SVR Lawyers in Calgary, Alta., said vaccines are a complex issue facing divorced and separated parents.

“Our advice is always to divorced and separated parents to keep the lines of communication as open as possible,” said Lee, “to try to keep the children’s interests at the forefront.”

In Alberta, the firm said it may be a polarizing issue for parents because vaccines are not mandatory and parents are at liberty to decide if their children will be vaccinated.

“All of this combined with the newness of the COVID-19 vaccine can create tension and conflict between co-parents when it comes to navigating this very important parenting decision.”

If parents cannot come to an agreement together, Lee said attending mediation or a parenting coach will still keep the parents involved in the decision.

If that doesn’t work, arbitration or the courts may be the next step.

That is often costly and time consuming, not to mention stressful. Lee said you could find yourself calling expert evidence, like health documents and physician opinions.

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“It is a very complex area to litigate or arbitrate. It’s not like picking what activities we’re going to put the kids into for the fall.”

Lee said because the COVID-19 vaccine is so new, there hasn’t been a lot of direction from the court yet. But she pointed to other routine vaccine decisions.

“It is clear the courts will look at what the government recommendations are and will do a risk-benefit analysis for each particular child,” said Lee. “They always have to look at each child specifically when determining what’s in that child’s best interests. We can draw some conclusions about what the court will do but we don’t have anything concrete yet.”

For instance, this past fall when dissenting parents didn’t agree on whether their child should return to in-person learning, the court, said Lee, generally sided with sending the child back to school.

“The courts did recognize that the provincial government, with the assistance from medical experts has endorsed a return to learning in school.”

Lee noted medical decisions are different, but in the past the courts have considered recommendations from the provincial government.

Other provinces have said they plan to roll out vaccination appointments for young people soon.

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For Tyler Bell, he was a tad nervous to get the vaccine, but his stepmom said the hope is in two weeks he can return to in-person learning and finish the school year.

“Now we know he’ll be a little bit safer if they do get to go back.”

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