Baby blood case: Doctors to decide on ‘vaccinated’ blood for baby, court rules

People gathered outside the High Court in Auckland in support of a family fighting for blood from unvaccinated donors for their sick baby.

Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

People gathered outside the High Court in Auckland in support of a family fighting for blood from unvaccinated donors for their sick baby.

Doctors can make the medical decisions for a baby at the centre of a case about blood from donors vaccinated for Covid-19, a court has ruled.

The 4-month-old boy is in hospital in Auckland.

Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) went to the High Court in Auckland seeking temporary guardianship of the boy, in order to authorise the use of vaccinated blood during the operation.

But the boy’s parents, who cannot be named, opposed the application, saying they had other donors – who had not been vaccinated for Covid – lined up.

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They said they were concerned about the possible health impacts of their child receiving blood from vaccinated donors.

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Otago University immunologist associate professor James Ussher previously said if any remnants of Pfizer vaccine made it into donated blood, it would be very short-lived.

It posed “no safety concerns”, he said.

Justice Ian Gault released his decision on the baby’s case on Wednesday afternoon, after a hearing on Tuesday.

He granted Health NZ’s application, meaning the surgery can go ahead, using blood from people vaccinated for Covid.

Guardianship has been given to the court. Two medical specialists from the hospital have been made agents of the court, meaning they can make medical decisions for the boy until after his surgery.

Justice Gault also denied a cross-application from the parents, seeking another order compelling the NZ Blood Service to provide a direct donor service. That would allow the compatible blood to be collected and processed from unvaccinated individuals.

The court earlier heard the boy has a congenital heart defect which has become more severe since he was born. He needs surgery “in order to survive” and his heart will “continue to deteriorate” without it.

He is likely to need plasma products, which are formed from pooling blood from various donors. Doctors said it was “simply impractical” to get this from directed donors.

Doctors had also checked whether it was possible to perform the surgery using cardiac bypass, without blood or blood products, but decided “this was not an available option”.

At the hearing, the court heard the baby had already received a blood transfusion before the court row ignited.

Te Whatu Ora’s lawyer, Paul White, said the parents’ strong opposition to another transfusion was “curious” given that the child had already been given blood as part of earlier treatment, which the mother had consented to.

The baby boy requires open-heart surgery.

The baby boy requires open-heart surgery.

Adam Ross KC, representing the Blood Service, said straying from clinical judgement could lead down a “slippery slope” that would ultimately “damage” the blood service.

He said should the order be made compelling the service to give the baby blood from unvaccinated donors, there would be nothing stopping people from saying they “don’t like those types of people’s blood or these types of people’s blood”.

Sue Grey, acting for the family, said the long-term effects of the vaccine were “untested”.

Although doctors had given an earlier transfusion to the baby, “it doesn’t mean we should play blood roulette”, she said.

She claimed doctors were refusing to provide a direct donor service not because it was impractical, but for ideological reasons.

Justice Gault said it was in the baby’s best interests for him to have surgery “without further delay”.

His order granting the doctors the power to make medical decisions for the baby come into force immediately and will last until after he has recovered from surgery.

Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) has acknowledged the decision, saying: “This is a difficult situation for all involved.

“The focus of our entire team at Starship is always on the health and wellbeing of all tamariki within our care, as well as their whānau. With this in mind, it is our priority to work alongside the baby’s whānau as we continue to care for him.”

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