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Name: In re Matthew M.
Case #: B319258
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 03/06/2023

The juvenile court did not abuse its discretion when it authorized the vaccination against COVID-19 of twelve-year-old dependent minor over the objection of Mother. The minor was removed from his parents and placed in a therapeutic care home due to minor’s emotional and behavioral challenges. At the six-month review hearing, Mother asked that the minor be exempted from receiving the COVID-19 vaccine due to religious beliefs and concern about possible side effects. The juvenile court noted that Mother had not provided evidence of an appropriate religious exemption and authorized vaccination of the minor. Mother did not appeal those findings and orders. About three weeks later, Mother filed a section 388 petition expanding on her objection to the vaccine based on her deeply held Christian beliefs because the COVID-19 vaccine had used fetal cells in its early development. At the hearing, the minor expressed that he wished for the court to make the decision regarding the vaccine for him. The juvenile court denied the 388 petition, finding insufficient evidence of changed circumstances and finding insufficient evidence it was in the minor’s best interest not to be vaccinated. The appellate court affirmed the orders. “New evidence” means material evidence that the party could not have presented at the proceeding at which the order seeking to be modified was entered. Mother’s objections to the vaccine based on religious objection was not new evidence because she had raised the same objection previously and thus the petition fails on the first prong. Further, when a child has been declared a dependent of the juvenile court, the court is expressly authorized to make “any and all reasonable orders for the care, supervision, custody, conduct, maintenance, and support of the child, including medical treatment.” While Mother’s religious beliefs were entitled to some consideration, her objection was not supported by evidence because none of the COVID-19 vaccines available for use in the United States contain fetal cells or fetal tissue. Further, the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease, ill health, or death. However legitimate Mother’s concerns may have been about unknown long-term side effects of the vaccine, it was for the juvenile court to weigh the benefits of vaccinating the minor, to himself and for those he would interact with, and the possible risks. The record of the section 388 hearing supports the juvenile court’s conclusion and thus it was not an abuse of discretion for the court to authorize the minor’s vaccination.