Vaccinations. The bane of children who fear needles everywhere and yet it is one of the most important things that will be done to you early in your life. For years now there have been those who have decided against vaccinating their children because of religion, a “celebrity” told them they cause autism or just outright stupidity. The Australian government is trying to change that.
Doctors will soon be given incentive payments so that parents stick to their children’s vaccination schedule, what is more important however is that the one religious exemption to vaccinations will soon end. This comes as part of a push by the federal government to boost the immunisation rate among our dear cousins half way around the world.
The social services minister for Australia, Scott Morrison, announced over the weekend that the only religious group currently able to claim religious exemptions for vaccinations, Christian Scientists, will no longer be able to do so.
Morrison said the exemption, which has been in place since 1998, “is no longer current or necessary and will therefore be removed”.
He would continue this statement by saying that, “Having resolved this outstanding matter, the government will not be receiving nor authorising any further vaccination exemption applications from religious organisations,”
It is not all good news however as families will still be able to claim exemptions to vaccinations on medical grounds. “This will remain the sole ground for exemption under the Coalition government,” Morrison said. At least in that case it makes sense if a child is medically unable to deal with vaccinations it makes sense to inoculate them later in life rather than doing it when they are children.
The tightening of the rules around exemptions is part of the government’s $26m package on boosting immunisation rates. The package will include a public awareness campaign, the idea being to sell the benefits of vaccinations to parents, along with making people aware of the incentive payments for medical providers. There is also hope amongst the politicians that there will be an improved public vaccination records.
News Ltd reports that the current $6 incentive payment offered to medical professionals for reminding families that their children are due for jabs, will be doubled to $12. On Monday, the government announced that it would tighten up welfare eligibility for parents who fail to immunise their children. Translated slightly, if you do not have your child vaccinated without a legitimate medical reason you would lose state benefits. More specifically families could lose out on the childcare benefit and rebate, and the Family Tax Benefit part A supplement.
The health minister, Sussan Ley, said, “I believe most parents have genuine concerns about those who deliberately choose not to vaccinate their children and put the wider community at risk. However, it is important parents also understand complacency presents as a much of a threat to immunisation rates and the safety of our children as conscientious objections do.”
A national immunisation register is reportedly also being proposed to keep track of vaccines given through school-based programs.
The Labor party in Australia has also thrown its support behind the changes. “In many cases missed vaccinations are due to oversight rather than a specific objection,” a joint statement from opposition leader Bill Shorten, opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin and opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said.
The joint statement continues saying, “The establishment of a national immunisation register of school-based vaccinations will assist all parents to do the right thing by their children. Labor also supports moves to explore a national immunisation register to enable adults to keep their vaccinations up to date.”
The Queensland health minister, Cameron Dick, welcomed Sunday’s announcements but told news outlets that he was now concerned about the issue of vaccine shortages, which was raised at the council of Australian governments meeting on Friday, but was not mentioned.
“If we are going to incentivise the system now, going to be giving doctors money to provide more immunisations, more vaccinations, then I want to be assured the vaccinations are there,” Dick told ABC News 24. He added that, “In one sense, a good announcement but disappointing no consultation with the states and territories but let’s hope that can be sorted out, we can secure supply including domestic manufacture if need be to ensure all Australians are vaccinated.”
Ley estimates that there are currently 39,000 conscientious objectors, and at least 166,000 children who are two months or more overdue for their immunisations.