Immunization rates are up in Australia after the federal government stopped paying benefits to families who don’t vaccinate.
The country’s controversial No Jab, No Pay bill, passed last year, went into effect in January and strips families of up to $15,000 AUD in annual benefits if they don’t get vaccinated.
Australians risk losing their Child Care Benefit and the Child Care Rebate, which help cover child care costs, and part of their Family Tax Benefit (similar to the Canada Child Benefit) if they don’t keep their children’s vaccinations up to date.
Faced with losing those benefits, more than 5,700 children were vaccinated for the first time, and 148,000 children had their immunizations updated in the first half of this year, according to a federal report.
Immunization rates in the country are now at 93 per cent among children younger than five. The government’s goal is to reach herd immunity rates.
“We were facing a situation where the medical community were telling us that ‘herd immunity rates’, as they call it, need to be 95 per cent, and we were just dropping steadily below that,” said Social Services Minister Christian Porter to abc.net.au.
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Porter admits the decision to cut off benefits is not ideal, but he says clearly it’s working. The move offers peace of mind to parents.
“All parents can be absolutely certain and secure now that when their kids are going into childcare, that the government’s enacted a policy that’s lifted the immunizations up for things like whooping cough and polio, so that kids are protected in childcare.”
The government’s action was spurred by the anti-vaccination movement. Over the last few decades belief that vaccines cause autism and other chronic illnesses has prompted some parents to forego vaccines. This has dropped immunization rates, which has been linked to a resurgence in largely eradicated illnesses such as measles and whooping cough.
“Conscientious objection and vaccination objection on non-medical grounds will no longer be a valid exemption from immunization requirements,” states the country’s immunization guidelines.
Children with valid medical reasons continue to be exempt.