Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will feel a jab in the hip pocket under new laws. The Federal Government has introduced a new “no jab, no play and no pay” policy that will penalise parents financially if they deny their children immunisations.
From January 1 next year, “conscientious objection” will be removed as an exemption category for childcare benefits. To put it plainly – vaccine refusal equals no Child Care Benefit, no $7500-a-year Child Care Rebate and no $726 Family Tax Benefit Part A.
The tough new rules – designed to put the brakes on declining vaccination rates – will cost parents using those childcare and family tax benefits up to $15,000 a year, according to the The Daily Telegraph.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott tells News Corp Australia he wants parents “to have the confidence they can take their children to childcare without the fear their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others”.
He says Australian parents have chosen not to immunise more than 39,000 children aged under seven. And that figure has increased by more than 24,000 children over the past 10 years – though our vaccination rates for under fives are still more than 90 per cent.
Children must already be immunised for their families to receive childcare payments and the Family Tax Benefit – but parents can get around it by signing a form to confirm they’ve discussed the issue with their doctor and have a “personal, philosophical or religious” reason to skip vaccinations.
Under the new rules, only exemptions on medical or religious grounds will remain available. And Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield says religious groups will have to formally register their objections to vaccination with the government to be exempt. “But it’s very narrow and we don’t expect many people will take that up,” he tells ABC’s Q&A.
The government’s stance has been welcomed by many – including the parents of Perth baby Riley Hughes, who died of whooping cough at just four weeks old. “We would much rather use effective vaccination education to encourage people to make the right choice. At the same time, we acknowledge that this policy will improve childhood vaccination rates and save lives,” Catherine and Greg Hughes tell news.com.au.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has also indicated the Federal Opposition will help the new law become a reality when it moves through the Senate.
But not everyone shares their enthusiasm. University of New South Wales school of public health and community medicine head Professor Raina MacIntyre calls it a “poorly thought-out and ill-informed strategy that may end up worsening, rather than improving, the alleged problem in a country that boasts among the best immunisation rates in the world”.
She says the present scheme requires parents to register their conscientious objection, which already separates genuine refusers from those who are just delaying vaccination. “This has been shown to be effective in improving immunisation and parental willingness to vaccinate,” she writes in an opinion piece on the university’s website.
“Introducing punitive measures may have the opposite effect to the intended effect, and may increase public mistrust of vaccination and resentment of coercion. It also allows the anti-vaccination lobby to represent themselves as persecuted martyrs.”
The Daily Telegraph explains that presently, children must be immunised in the financial years that they turn one, two or five to be eligible for the FTB Part A. Under the new rules, all children older than 12 months must be vaccinated – so they will miss out on the $728 supplement every year they are not immunised. Only babies under one will be excluded from the new laws. The fortnightly FTB A payments are not affected.
(Middle image via Light for Riley, Facebook)