The WHO has not decided attending school implies consent for vaccines

28 October 2020
What was claimed

The WHO now says a child’s presence in school counts as “informed consent” for a vaccination and parental presence is not required.

Our verdict

The evidence for this claim was taken from a document written by the WHO which described types of vaccine consent around the world, including written, verbal and implied consent. In the UK, sending your child to school doesn’t automatically imply you’ve consented for them to get a vaccine.

A post on Facebook has claimed:

“BREAKING: WHO now says your child’s presence in school counts as ‘informed consent’ for vaccination - parental presence is ‘not required’.”

The post shows the headline of a blog post on a website called “Sign of the Times”, published in November 2019. 

The blog post claims that the World Health Organisation (WHO) “now considers your child's presence in school informed consent to vaccinate that child.” The page features a screenshot of an official WHO document which talks about “implied consent”.

This screenshot is from a genuine WHO document about consent and vaccinations for children, but is lacking vital context. The page the screenshot is taken is titled “Common approaches for obtaining consent for vaccination”, and says “Current practices of obtaining informed consent for vaccination vary among countries, but can be broadly categorized into three approaches”. It then goes on to talk about these approaches, which it categorises as a “formal, written consent process”, “a verbal consent process” and “an implied consent process”, which is where the screenshot is taken from.

It says: “An implied consent process by which parents are informed of imminent vaccination through social mobilization and communication, sometimes including letters directly addressed to the parents. Subsequently, the physical presence of the child or adolescent, with or without an accompanying parent at the vaccination session, is considered to imply consent. 

“This practice is based on the opt-out principle and parents who do not consent to vaccination are expected implicitly to take steps to ensure that their child or adolescent does not participate in the vaccination session. This may include not letting the child or adolescent attend school on a vaccination day, if vaccine delivery occurs through schools.”

The page also contains further information about informed consent, which is not included in the screenshot:

“Implied consent procedures are common practice in many countries. However, when children present for vaccination unaccompanied by their parents, it is challenging to determine whether parents indeed provided consent. Therefore, countries are encouraged to adopt procedures that ensure that parents have been informed and agreed to the vaccination.”

The document seems to have been published in 2014, although the WHO has been describing implied consent in this way until at least this year.

The British Medical Journal (BMJ) wrote in February that the WHO had been criticised for not being clear enough about consent in a pilot roll-out of a malaria vaccine it was co-ordinating in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya

The BMJ explained: “WHO says the study is a “pilot introduction” and not a “research activity” - and that those children living in areas randomised to receive the new vaccine will do so as part of each country’s routine vaccination schedule and that consent is “implied.””

The WHO told the BMJ: “The vaccine deployment is led by the countries and it is done in the context of routine vaccinations, where there is no requirement for written individual consent.” 

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The WHO doesn’t decide countries’ vaccine policies

We asked the WHO about these claims. It told us that the organisation “provides recommendations on immunization issues of global importance, but each country is sovereign and sets their own vaccination policies.”

It also said “current practices of obtaining informed consent for vaccination vary among countries and WHO does not recommend one specific approach over another.”

“Some countries consider [the] presence of the child at school on the vaccination day as implied consent (many require that the parents are informed in advance and give opt out possibility), but it is up to each country to decide their immunization policies and informed consent procedures.”

In the UK, you cannot be forcibly vaccinated. Either the person getting the immunisation or someone with parental responsibility for them (depending on the person’s age and whether they are “Gillick competent”, so whether they can fully understand what the procedure involves) must consent for a immunisation to take place. 

For immunisations in schools, the guidelines say: “the situation differs depending on the age and competence of the individual child or young person. Information leaflets should be available for the child’s own use and to share with their parents prior to the date that the immunisation is scheduled.”

It adds that “There is no requirement for consent to be in writing.” 

The guidelines also say individuals “must be given enough information to enable them to make a decision before they can give consent.”

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