Leask told IFLScience that the high-profile changes coincided with other reforms, such as making vaccination free for children over five who had missed the schedule and paying doctors who “catch-up” previous unvaccinated children. Consequently, she argues, it is not possible to state with confidence how much of the improvement is a result of the “no jab, no pay” aspect.
“Andrew Wakefield caused fears about the MMR vaccine by taking something that was increasing over time and attributing it to a single cause,” Leask said. “I see people doing the same thing with vaccination rates, saying ‘because A came before B, A must have been the cause of B’ without considering the context of what else was happening.”
Leask noted that even the apparent improvement may not all be real, with some children who were previously listed as being unvaccinated actually having been fully up to date. The financial penalties may have inspired many parents to ensure their children’s status was accurately recorded.
Having spent two decades researching how to raise vaccination rates, Leask argues that any rise the policy did produce needs to be weighed against the impact on children whose families missed out on payments, irrespective of their parents' motivations.