The Abbott government has closed another loophole on children’s vaccinations, ending a religious exemption that allowed Christian Scientists to get childcare benefits and not vaccinate their kids.
Last week, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison announced that parents would no longer be able to conscientiously object to vaccination and still claim childcare and family payments from the government.
But he kept exemptions on religious and medical grounds, noting there was only one religious organisation exempt. Online information prepared by Mr Morrison’s department clearly stated the church was the Church of Christ, Scientist – more generally known as the Christian Scientists.
However, a spokeswoman for the Christian Scientists told Fairfax Media that the church was in fact “very neutral on the subject of vaccination”.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison announced the government would shut down the exemption for the Christian Scientists. He said the government had had discussions with the Christian Scientists over the past week and “formed the view that this exemption, in place since 1998, is no longer current or necessary”.
“The government will not be receiving nor authorising any further vaccination exemption applications from religious organisations.”
The medical exemption will remain.
The announcement comes as Health Minister Sussan Ley announced $26 million to encourage GPs to help parents keep their children’s vaccinations up to date.
This will include an additional $6 incentive payment to doctors and immunisation providers who identify children who are overdue for vaccinations and then catch them up, as well as developing a school vaccination register that will record adolescent vaccines and look at recording adult ones as well.
The funding will also be used for a communications campaign.
Ms Ley said that some parents were hearing “crackpot ideas about what happens if you vaccinate your children”.
“We do want to make parents who are concerned aware of the real reasons and the real safety involved in vaccination.”
Labor quickly backed Ms Ley’s plan.
“In many cases missed vaccinations are due to oversight rather than a specific objection,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said in a statement.
The Australian College of General Practitioners welcomed the $6 incentive payment for GPs.
The group’s president Dr Frank R Jones said the payment would help GPs “carry out the extra administrative work required to identify children behind in their immunisations and catch them up.”
Dr Jones said a broader government campaign should target communities that faced barriers to ensuring their children were vaccinated.
“These communities include new arrivals to Australia who may not be familiar with vaccination programs, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and people who live in rural and remote areas with limited access to medical services,” he said.
“A strong immunisation program is vital to reducing what can be serious and life-threatening diseases in the community and it is imperative that vaccination is readily available to all Australian children.”