Australian Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan announced on July 1 in a media release a new addition to the country's already strict “no jab, no pay” policy. The rule will see parents who do not vaccinate their children face monthly fines.
"Parents who don’t vaccinate their children against disease will lose part of their fortnightly family support payment starting 1 July. Family Tax Benefit Part A payments will be reduced by about (A)$28 a fortnight for each child who does not meet immunisation requirements, under tougher No Jab, No Pay rules," read the statement.
A constant reminder to vaccinate
The politician explained the new measure would serve as a "constant reminder for parents to keep their children’s immunization up to date" in order to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases. The MP further explained that parents who avoided immunization were endangering other people's children as well as their own.
Australia's “no jab, no pay” policy, called the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Act 2015, was passed in November 2015 by the federal parliament. The amendment effectively abolished the right to object to vaccination for the purpose of eligibility to certain benefits provided under A New Tax System (Family Assistance) Act 1999 (Cth).
The law took effect on January 1, 2016, and has since seen the immunization of an estimated 246,000 children. The efforts were supported by over $14 million provided by the Government for free "catch-up" vaccinations given to children, young adults and refugees.
A choice not supported by public policy
An additional $5.5 million over three years was allocated to efforts to educate and encourage Australians on the benefits and importance of vaccinating children. The parliament had expressed worries that the "percentage of children under seven years with a conscientious objection recorded on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR) has risen from 0.23% in December 1999 to 1.77% in December 2014."
The Government had further stated that "the choice made by families not to immunise their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments." However, exemptions were made for children with medical contraindications confirmed by a general practitioner.
Those measures saw offending parents lose an estimated A$737 end of year payment from their family tax benefit. The Australian Department of Health revealed that, as of March 2018, national coverage rates were 94.1% for all one year olds, 90.5% for all two year olds and 94.2% for all five year olds.
The Department said it had not reached its aspirational target of 95% but was "close." The new measures may well see the ambitious goal achieved.
‘Despite the majority of Australian children being immunised, it’s important that we don’t become complacent. We need to maintain high immunisation rates to protect the vulnerable groups in our community,’ had said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare spokesperson in a statement regarding the stats.