Australian parents will lose thousands of dollars of childcare and welfare benefits if they refuse to vaccinate their kids.
The “no jab, no pay” plan, announced by the federal government today, has bipartisan support.
Thousands of families could lose payments, with the government estimating about 39,000 children under seven have not received immunisation because their parents are vaccine objectors.
But Social Service Minister Scott Morrison said it’s not fair for taxpayers to subsidise parents who choose not to immunise.
“The overwhelming advice of those in the health profession is it’s the smart thing and the right thing to do to immunise your children,” Mr Morrison said in Sydney.
The government says the number of parents opting for the “conscientious objection” vaccination exemption for payments has more than doubled over the past decade.
The “no jab, no pay” policy will remove it as an exemption from January 2016.
The Australian Medical Association, representing 27,000 doctors, backs the plan.
“Vaccination remains one of the most effective public health measures that we have,” AMA President Brian Owler said.
“Whatever we can do to increase vaccination rates is important.”
Dr Owler does have some reservations. He’s concerned the policy won’t catch parents who don’t need the benefits and could lead to children being excluded.
“Kids might get punished because of the position their parents make.”
But the rest of the community had to be protected, he said, particularly sick people such as those undergoing chemotherapy. Under the plan, recommended by the Productivity Commission in a recent inquiry into child care, parents who decide against immunisations could be up to $15,000 worse off per child.
They would lose a childcare benefit of up to $205 a week, the childcare rebate of up to $7500 a year or the Family Tax Benefit A annual supplement of up to $726.
Children can still be exempted on medical or religious grounds, but Mr Morrison warns the latter exemption is “very narrow”.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor believed in the science of vaccinations and linking them to welfare payments. “(I don’t accept) people just claiming some sort of loose, undefined conscientious objection not to do the right thing by their children,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
But there are some who strongly oppose measures that mandate immunisation.
An online petition against compulsory vaccinations in Australia that states “all parents deserve to make an uncoerced choice” has received more than 3000 signatures in five days.
Parents have taken to the change.org webpage to express their concerns about vaccinations and what they view is a potential encroachment on civil rights.
“My children, my choice and NOT the governments (sic),” Rima Helal wrote.
Another woman, Jody Fletcher, states: “I will not put my child at risk from further damage from vaccinations”.
Some conscientious objectors fear vaccinations are linked to diseases such as autism.
But the bulk of scientific opinion holds that vaccinations are safe and that objection to immunisation endangers the community by lowering so-called herd immunity to diseases.
NSW preschools already require vaccinations to enrol children and Mr Morrison is hoping other states and territories will also co-operate.