No vaccination – no pay

A tightening of legislation will see parents who refuse to have their children immunised lose up to $15,000 in Family Tax payments and childcare rebates.

Although Australia has a high immunisation rate – about 90 per cent for children aged between one and five, the number of parents opting not to have their children immunised has risen to 39,000 over the last decade, an increase of 24,000.

Currently, parents can still receive government benefits by citing reasons of religious, philosophical or personal beliefs for not having their children vaccinated.

Announcing proposed changes, the Prime Minister Mr Abbott said that new legislation would allow for only a small number of exemptions under religious and medical conditions.

“This is essentially a ‘no jab, no pay’ policy from this Government,” Mr Abbott said. “It’s a very important public health announcement, it’s a very important measure to keep our children and our families as safe as possible.”

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said he also expected only a few families to be able to claim exemption under the new rules. Parents seeking religious exemption will need to be registered with a church or similar organisation which has a recognised anti-vaccination mandate. “That’s the only basis upon which you can have a religious exception, and there are no mainstream religions that have such objections registered so this would apply to a very, very small proportion of people,” he said. “It’d be lucky to be in the thousands, if that.”

In a joint statement with Scott Morrison, Tony Abbott added, “The choice made by families not to immunise their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of childcare payments”.

The move has received the support of Opposition leader Bill Shorten who said, “We believe fundamentally in the science of vaccinations and we fundamentally believe that policy should be made by the best evidence and the best science.

“And we would say to the Liberal Government, we’re pleased that you’re agreeing with our position and yes we will cooperate to make sure that the safety of our children is what is paramount in public policy.”

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Opinion: Parents dicing with death

We are incredibly fortunate to live in a country in which many diseases that can kill have all but been eradicated. But the growing support for the anti-vaccination movement is putting the lives of many at risk.

As a child I was vaccinated against all the nasties – polio, diphtheria, measles etc, yet still I contracted whooping cough. Given that I was only a tiny baby at the time, I can’t quite remember the events myself, but what I do know is that my parents truly feared the disease would kill me, with doctors telling them that had I not been vaccinated, the condition would have been much worse.

Perhaps, because of this personal experience, I never considered the possibility of not vaccinating my own child, even during the furore surrounding the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab of the early 2000s. In 1998 Andrew Wakefield had a research paper published in the medical journal, The Lancet, which wrongly (or fraudulently) claimed that there was a link between the MMR vaccination and autism. For several years parents refused to have their children vaccinated, or were trying to find clinics which would give the vaccinations separately (a less effective method). In 2004 The Lancet partially retracted the paper, and it was fully scratched in 2010, when Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council for serious professional misconduct.

It was only recently that anti-vaccination campaigner, Dr Sherri Tenpenny, planned to spread her message to thousands of Australians in a nationwide tour. The ‘doctor’ (she’s actually an osteopath) cancelled her visit due to ‘security concerns’. In reality, many venues had cancelled her seminar due to mounting public complaints.

Of course parents have to make decisions for their children which they believe to be right, but it shouldn’t be at the risk of harming others by aiding the spread of diseases which can be deadly.

The move by the government to tighten the benefit rules for vaccination objectors is definitely a step in the right direction, but we must remember that such objections largely come from families who are more middle class than working class and may not receive such benefits. Indeed, a ticket to hear Dr Tenpenny speak would have set you back $100, hardly small change if you’re living on benefits. Therefore, simply removing the right to benefits isn’t enough. States and territories also need to tighten the rules for access to schools and childcare. Only children who have been vaccinated, should be admitted to such facilities. And, if they can’t be vaccinated for religious reasons, put the onus back on their church to provide the necessary care and education facilities.

The decision to vaccinate is an ongoing issue for parents; it doesn’t stop when a child turns five. As my son heads back to school for the next term, he’ll undergo a round of booster vaccinations, to bolster his defenses against the same diseases he needed protection for when he was five. And I’ll gladly sign the permission forms, not just to keep him safe, but the babies, children, pregnant women, elderly and infirm with whom he may come into contact. For you see, that’s the real point of vaccination.

Did you vaccinate your children? Do you think parents should be able to object on personal or religious grounds? Does stopping benefits go far enough?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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