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Australia Proposes Limiting Welfare Payments For Anti-Vaxxer Parents

Refusing to vaccinate your children in Australia may soon come with a price tag.

Image via (cc) Flickr user sanofi-pasteur

Refuse to vaccinate your kids in Australia, and you could be risking more than simply infectious diseases and social shunning. New legislation introduced this week would result in parents who don’t vaccinate their children potentially losing out on thousands of dollars worth of welfare. It’s a dramatic move as the country seeks to clamp down on an anti-vaxxer movement which has left nearly 40,000 children under the age of seven without proper immunization.

As the law currently stands, parents receiving Australia’s Family Tax Benefit part A, as well as childcare benefits and rebates, have been allowed three types of exemptions from vaccination: medical risk, religious belief, and “conscientious objection.” The new legislation, set to go into effect next year, would eliminate that last criteria as a valid excuse to avoid inoculation. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot framed the the new policy in terms of the greater public welfare, explaining: “The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of childcare payments,” reports IFLScience.

The so-called “No Jab, No Pay” plan is supported by the Australian Medical Association, who back the measure as a means to fight against the resurgence of serious diseases like Measles and Whooping Cough.

“No Jab, No Pay” isn’t without its critics. There are those, of course, who might oppose the policy out of hand, simply for promoting vaccinations, while others might see it as coercive or punitive in a way that establishes a dangerous precedent for conditional welfare down the road. Even some proponents of inoculation argue the policy will make little difference in the ongoing fight to contain communicable diseases. Explains Saman Shad in an SBS opinion piece:

Many of these hardcore objectors [to vaccination] live in affluent areas. Some of the lowest rates of immunisation [sic] are in Sydney’s northern and eastern suburbs. While in the affluent inner-city suburbs of Melbourne vaccination rates are falling below safe herd immunity levels. For parents living in these suburbs, cuts to benefits are less of a motivator as money perhaps isn’t much of an object.

It’s a charge that seems plausible, at least geographically. A 2013 Sydney Morning Herald feature pegged Sydney’s affluent suburbs as being “at risk” for infectious outbreak due to low vaccination rates, according to Australia’s National Health Performance Authority.

Still, the measure enjoys support from across the country’s political spectrum. As Bill Shorten, head of Australia’s Labor party, told The Guardian:

"Labor understands that there are a small number of people who have deeply-held religious convictions, but other than that, Labor sees no case at all for parents not to be encouraged to immunise [sic] their children."

In California, a similar proposal to restrict the inoculation exemptions (in this case:Students opting out of mandatory school vaccinations for reasons other than “medical”) is facing intense opposition from groups opposed to vaccinations, as well those fearing governmental overreach.
The dangers of not being inoculated, however, are incontrovertible. Watch as this data visualization demonstrates the spread of preventable disease as global vaccination rates have dropped:

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