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Anti-vaccination parents could face welfare cut

15 Apr 2014

Parents who object to the vaccination of their children on ethical grounds could be stripped of family tax benefits under a plan being considered by Federal Health Minister Peter Dutton.

The nation’s Health Ministers, who met in Brisbane late last week, are facing calls to do more to boost child vaccination rates after it was revealed that more than 75,000 young children were not fully immunised – with coverage in some areas as low as 67 per cent, well below the level considered necessary to ensure herd immunity.

A significant proportion – 15,000 – had not been vaccinated because of the conscientious objections of their parents, according to analysis by the National Health Performance Authority.

A loophole under which parents who conscientiously object to vaccination for their children can still claim an immunisation bonus worth $2100 has drawn the ire of health experts.

The Australian Virology Society, the Australasian Society for Immunology and The Australian Society for Microbiology have urged that the loophole be immediately closed.

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg flagged his intention to put the issue of parental conscientious objections to vaccination on the agenda of the Health Minister’s meeting, telling the Courier Mail it was a term that was being “abused and misused”.

Mr Dutton said he was looking at the issue closely, including the option of withholding the $726 Family Tax Benefit A payment from parents whose children were not vaccinated.

“There is an argument for them to lose it, and I’m considering that,” the Minister told the Courier Mail. “We’ve got pretty good coverage at the moment – about 90 per cent of children aged one, two and five are fully immunised – but there is this issue around conscientious objectors.”

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said other states should consider following the lead of the NSW Government, which has given child care centres the authority to block the enrolment of unvaccinated children.

“Recent analysis has looked into areas that had poor vaccination rates, and prior to the ‘no jab, no play’ campaign it was below the threshold for herd immunity, and after this campaign it was above,” Dr Hambleton told the Courier Mail. “That is the difference between measles going wild and not going wild.”

Adrian Rollins

Published: 15 Apr 2014