30 January 2023

Mother fails in discrimination claim against psychologist over unvaccinated son

| Albert McKnight
Boxes of COVID-19 vaccine

A mother has failed in her discrimination claim over her unvaccinated child. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

A mother failed in her discrimination claim against her son’s potential psychologist, which alleged in part that the psychologist wouldn’t see her child because the boy was unvaccinated against COVID-19.

She complained to the Human Rights Commission alleging discrimination against her nine-year-old son, who has autism and a severe communication disorder. He was also unvaccinated against the virus, just like her.

In a decision by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s (ACAT) Senior Member Michael Orvlov, published on Thursday (12 January), he said the gist of the complaint was that the psychologist allegedly imposed unsuitable conditions on the child’s ongoing therapy and delayed access to psychological support.

He said the “final straw” for the mother came in late December 2021, when the psychologist allegedly sent her an email saying she would see only patients who were double-vaccinated against COVID-19 for face-to-face appointments from February 2022.

The mother became “outraged” and stopped contacting her.

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“At this stage I am only seeing double vaccinated people and that rules out some people from face-to-face sessions,” part of the email went.

As part of the mother’s claim, she alleged that as the psychologist allegedly said she would only see double vaccinated patients face-to-face, this discriminated against her son because he was not vaccinated.

While the son’s disability is a protected attribute under the Discrimination Act, she accepted his vaccination status is not.

However, she said it was “related to his disability and the numerous diagnoses that he has”.

“She says that uncertainty about possible complications arising from vaccination against COVID-19 and the desire to avoid putting him at risk, has led the family to decide that he should not be vaccinated,” Senior Member Orlov said.

He pointed out that the psychologist’s email was sent at a time when no child under the age of 11 had been vaccinated against COVID-19, “much less been double-vaccinated”.

In January 2022, the psychologist published a COVID-19 risk management policy on her website, noting she was aware children could not be vaccinated before that same month so she had no expectation they would be.

She told ACAT, “The issue of [the son’s] vaccination status was not raised, as this had no relevance to my decision-making at this time”.

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The mother had also said her son “has his legal right to not to disclose his vaccination status and to access health services regardless of his vaccination status”.

“I doubt the first part of the statement is true, given that state and territory directives mandated at various times that a range of restrictions should apply to persons who could not provide evidence that they were fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Senior Member Orlov said.

He found the mother failed to establish any of her claims and dismissed the application. ACAT gave both the mother and the psychologist pseudonyms.

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