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A divorced mother in Chicago will not be able to see her 11-year-old son until she agrees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, a Cook County judge ruled in Illinois earlier this month.
Judge James Shapiro’s unusual, perhaps first-of-its-kind decision came during an Aug. 10 child support hearing over Zoom involving Rebecca Firlit and her ex-husband, with whom she shares custody, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
While Firlit’s ex hadn’t brought up concerns about her vaccine status, Shapiro still asked about it at the top of the hearing and used her answer as a reason to revoke her visitation, the Sun-Times reported.
“I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk,” Firlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Since Firlit revealed her vaccination status, she’s been unable to see her son in person—only talking to him over the phone and through video calls, according to WFLD, a Fox affiliate in Chicago. She’s now appealing the judge’s decision, which the boy’s vaccinated father intends to fight, according to the Sun-Times. (Attorneys for both Firlit and the boy’s father did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment.)
The three COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved for use in the U.S. are demonstrably safe and effective, though people with a previous history of allergic or adverse reactions to vaccines are typically told to consult with their doctor before getting the jab. COVID-19 vaccines also have the most intense safety monitoring in U.S. history, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Shapiro also isn’t alone in using his position to promote vaccination. A judge in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said that people could get vaccinated as an alternative to facing certain community service hours. At least two judges in Ohio also made getting the vaccine a condition of parole, meaning a person who failed to get the shot could go to prison. A Manhattan judge ordered a woman to get the vaccine after she sought bail before her trial, according to the New York Times.
Critics argue that Shapiro’s ruling is an overreach of his authority and the decision has already sparked outrage from some voices on the right, including Donald Trump Jr.
“In this case you have a judge, without any matter before him regarding the parenting time with the child, deciding ‘Oh, you’re not vaccinated. You don't get to see your child until you are vaccinated.’ That kind of exceeds his jurisdiction,” Annette Fernholz, an attorney for Firlit, told WFLD.
“You have to understand the father did not even bring this issue before the court,” Fernholz added. “So it’s the judge on his own and making [sic] this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated.”