State Supreme Court Blocks Mother From Vaccinating Children Against COVID-19

State Supreme Court Blocks Mother From Vaccinating Children Against COVID-19
A COVID-19 vaccine in Washington in a May 6, 2021, file image. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has temporarily blocked a mother from getting her children vaccinated against COVID-19.

A trial court in January rejected arguments from Joshua Nagel, the children’s father, and ruled that Lauren Nagel, the mother, could take her children to get COVID-19 vaccines. Lawyers for Joshua Nagel quickly asked the state’s top court for a stay.

A single justice entered a temporary stay on Jan. 26. The full court reviewed the case and on Feb. 9 ruled that it would keep the stay in place. Justices ordered Joshua Nagel to perfect an appeal within 15 days and for the parties to appear in court for oral arguments on April 13.

“We are just very gratified that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has granted this stay and is willing to listen to our arguments as to why these two young girls do not need the COVID vaccine,” Gregory Piccirilli, a lawyer representing Joshua Nagel, told The Epoch Times via email.

A lawyer representing Lauren Nagel didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The case is believed to be the first in the country dealing with a parental dispute over COVID-19 vaccines to make it to a state supreme court.

Divorce Settlement

At the core of the case is a divorce settlement that states that both parties would jointly decide on major decisions affecting the health of the children, who are 8 and 5, respectively. The pact also states that “neither party shall unreasonably withhold his or her consent to medical treatment for the children or the administration of medication recommended by the pediatrician of the children.”

Dr. Colleen Ann Powers, the children’s pediatrician, recommended that the children get a COVID-19 vaccine. In her practice, she and her workers have administered some 1,500 to 2,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses. Powers says the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks.

The vaccines are authorized to prevent COVID-19, but they provide little protection against symptomatic infection, officials are increasingly acknowledging. Powers said the main benefit is protection against severe illness. No efficacy data from clinical trials support that claim for children, and observational data on the protection in kids are mixed.

Powers said her sources of information were the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends virtually every person aged 6 months or older get vaccinated against COVID-19, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization whose guidance mirrors the CDC’s.

The groups have been among those promoting misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AAP falsely states that the messenger RNA from the vaccines is “broken down very quickly” once entering the body. Studies have detected the messenger RNA in the blood at 28 days after vaccination and in lymph nodes two months after vaccination.

Powers told the court that if the AAP rescinded its recommendation for the COVID-19 vaccine, she would follow the updated advice. She also said she planned to give the children a booster months after a primary series, acknowledging that the protection from the vaccines quickly wanes.

While a small number of children have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic, many have had serious underlying conditions. Further, the death rate is significantly lower than for older groups.
The children have also had COVID-19, which grants them natural immunity. According to research, that immunity is superior to immunity from vaccination, Dr. Andrew Bostom, an epidemiologist formerly with Brown University, advised the court.
Bostom told the court that Joshua Nagel’s position was reasonable, noting that some states and countries, such as Florida and Denmark, advise against vaccinating some or all healthy children because of concerns about side effects, including heart inflammation. Many parents have been hesitant to get their children vaccinated; Just 40 percent of kids aged 5 to 9 have received one or more doses in Rhode Island.

Trial Court Decision

Rhode Island Family Court Associate Justice Sandra Lanni, after hearing from both parties and their experts, ruled on Jan. 17 in favor of Lauren Nagel.

“It is clear from the evidence that was submitted to the court that there is not uniformity of agreement in the medical community regarding whether children, in general, should receive the COVID vaccine and whether the benefits of the vaccine to children, in general, outweigh the risks or vice versa,” Lanni said.

She also said Joshua Nagel’s opposition to Powers’s recommendation wasn’t “objectively unreasonable.”

However, the judge concluded that the divorce settlement language doesn’t mean that if one parent has a reasonable objection to a pediatrician’s recommendation, then that parent would automatically prevail.

“The court concludes, based on a totality of the evidence before it and the best interests of the parties’ children in this case, that it is in their best interest to give plaintiff decision-making authority regarding vaccination of the children for COVID, including future boosters, as long as she follows the recommendations of Dr. Powers at the time, because those recommendations could change,” the judge said.

Lanni said she was particularly persuaded by Powers’s personal knowledge of the children’s medical history and her experience treating them, including giving them other vaccinations, as well as “the fact that her recommendations are supported by the AAP and the CDC.”

Lanni later ruled against Joshua Nagel’s motion for a stay, which would have enabled the mother to take the children to get COVID-19 vaccines. That prompted an emergency motion to the state Supreme Court and the temporary stay. The new ruling keeps the stay in place, at least for now.

If justices had denied the motion, “the case would have become moot, because the mom would have had them vaccinated,” Piccirilli said. In every other case that he’s identified in the United States that involved parents diverging on whether to get their children a COVID-19 vaccine, that’s what happened.

“The court’s going to have to kind of maneuver around, issue a decision that’s not based upon their, maybe their personal beliefs, but on what the law and what the record should be. And hopefully, they‘ll do that,” he said. “I have confidence they will. I’m not saying that I’m going to win, but I’m confident that this case [will end] the right way. Hopefully, that’ll work in our favor.”

Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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