The Australian government is not taking “no” for an answer as it increases the pressure on parents who are against vaccinations and even threatens to stop child care and other payments to families who refuse to immunize their children.
The Associated Press writes that up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($11,400) could be lost per child, per year, in tax and child care benefits after Jan. 1, 2016 if parents do not acquiesce to the vaccination mandate. This same situation is playing out in the US and has deeply divided opposing groups.
Last month a four-week-old baby died of whooping cough in Perth, and the child’s parents are using social media to campaign for eradicating the disease. Babies under six months of age are particularly vulnerable, since they cannot be vaccinated at such a young age.
The government has decided to remove the “conscientious objector” category, which, until now, allowed parents to opt out of vaccinating and remain eligible for full welfare benefits.
Even though 97% of Australian families claim tax benefits because their children are vaccinated, the number of children under 7-years-old whose parents are conscientious objectors has increased from more than 24,000 over the past decade to 39,000, says a government statement. There will not, however, be a financial penalty for families who refuse immunizations on the grounds of medical or religious beliefs. The religious exemption will be closed if it is abused, according to Family Services Minister Scott Morrison.
In the opinion of the head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, Prof. Raina MacIntyre, the move will not diminish the views of those who steadfastly oppose vaccinations. The minor Greens party agreed with the policy, but suggested that vaccination rates would improve if an investment in public education programs and the subsidization of vaccines were provided.
The Australian move, “no jab, no pay,” comes after the December measles outbreak at Disneyland in California and the subsequent backlash by anti-vaccination groups.
“The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments,” said Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a joint statement with Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison.
Mashable’s Jenni Ryall reports that a press release sent out by Morrison’s office stated that parents should have the confidence taking their vaccinated children to child care and not be fearful that they will be at risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening illness because of “anti-vaxxers.” Areas of lowest rates of vaccinations in children of five in 2011-2012 were: the NSW north coast regions, in Indigenous communities, and in some wealthy areas like the eastern suburbs of Sydney and South Yarra in Melbourne, according to the latest National Health Performance Authority report.
In Stuff.co.nz, Dean Robertson explains “herd immunity”, which is also known as community immunity. This immunity requires that a large portion of the population be immunized to protect those children who are too young, on chemo treatment, or are allergic to the inoculation. The high number of conscientious observers means that herd immunity is dropping. Many affluent parents who live in areas with high-quality medical care and few infectious diseases can, understandably, come to the false conclusion that vaccinating is not a good thing.
Some “alternative parents” bask in the benefits of an immunized community. In this way, their children get a free-ride without having to be exposed to the very small risk of getting side effects from the serums. Robertson says:
“…parents who vaccinate their kids are also protecting other parents’ vulnerable children, shouldering some of the shared burden that helps make us a community.”