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Island couple in court over child's flu vaccine
By GREGORY KATZ
Associated Press
2009-12-01 01:15 AM
An estranged couple whose case was in family court Monday may be on the cutting edge of marital disputes. The issue: Whether their healthy, school-age daughter will be given the swine flu vaccine.

Dad says yes; Mom says no. Barring a last minute agreement, a judge on the island of Jersey will decide.

"I have independently researched the vaccine and I am not convinced it is proved safe," the child's mother told The Associated Press. "I feel it has been rushed through so quickly, under extreme circumstances, and I don't want my daughter exposed to it unless there are long-term studies."

The mother, whose name cannot be released for legal reasons, said she is worried about possible long-range health problems that may develop far in the future, but she said her former partner insists their 9-year-old daughter get the vaccine, which is being offered to Jersey children on a voluntary basis.

The swine flu vaccine question is relatively new, but lawyers and psychologists say it is common for couples to have strong disagreements on health care issues.

"In my professional experience, this happens very often," said psychologist Caroline Schuster, who practices in Shaftesbury, 165 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of London. "Couples regularly disagree on which is the best medical way forward."

This is particularly true for separated couples, she said.

"Couples who are estranged often are unable to recognize what is best for their child, because they get caught up in their own problems," she said.

French newspapers have reported similar disagreements in France over whether children should be vaccinated, including cases where parents who are divorcing are fighting about the issue, but there have not been documented court cases there yet.

London lawyer Judith Goodman, a family law specialist, said health care disputes typically surface as part of a larger pattern of conflict between couples.

"If one says it's Monday, the other says it's Tuesday," she said. "Usually you can reach an agreement through mediation or through your solicitors (lawyers), but if not, under English law, a judge will have to make a decision based on what's best for the welfare of the child. That is paramount."

Goodman said couples unable to resolve health issues should consider using an outside counselor trained to resolve single issues that divide couples.

"They are very good at working out the root cause of the problem," she said. "Quite often there is a difference between what someone says and what they mean."

The Jersey case is unusual because it involves a vaccine for a healthy school-age child without known pre-existing medical issues. This group is not being offered the vaccine in most countries, in part because the World Health Organization has not put them on the high priority list.

WHO officials insist the vaccine, which was rushed into production, is safe, including for children.

Top WHO flu expert Keiji Fukuda said last Thursday that about 40 countries have given at least 100 million doses of swine flu vaccine and that no unusual safety problems have been identified. The rates of minor side effects, such as soreness in the arm, have been about the same as the rate of side effects for regular flu vaccines.

___

Associated Press Writer Maria Cheng contributed to this report.

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