From the beginning of next year in Australia, if you don’t vaccinate your children, you will have your child benefits stopped. The “no jab, no pay” policy has been on the cards for a while, but this week saw it sail through parliament with cross party support. Exceptions will be made for medical reasons, such as those children who have compromised immune systems, but the law is aimed specifically at parents who have previously opted out as “conscientious objectors” to immunization.
Australia currently has a child immunization rate of above 90%, but the number of those who are not vaccinated has actually grown over the past decade, by around 24,000. The move to try and force parents who object to vaccinations on personal grounds has been driven in part by outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough. Some research even suggested that half of all suburbs in Australia are at risk of a measles outbreak due to low rates of immunization.
Under the new law, parents who receive childcare benefits, rebates, and Family Tax Benefit A end-of-year supplements, which can total up to thousands of Australian dollars a year, risk losing them if they fail to vaccinate their child. Parents will now be banned from opting out of vaccinations on philosophical grounds, which will also cover those who object for religious reasons.
The new legislation, however, is not without its critics. Lawyers have warned that “this policy is not in the best interests of the child,” as it will disproportionately affect those from disadvantaged families, without actually having that big an impact on childhood vaccination rates. This was backed up by the experts from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, who point out that those who are not vaccinated because of conscientious objection from parents only make up around 1.8% of all children. This new law, they argue, will do little to cover the 7% of children who are not up-to-date with vaccinations due to other reasons, such as missed appointments or difficulties accessing healthcare.