It has been widely reported today that the Turnbull Government’s “No Jab, No Pay” legislation has led to an increase in childhood vaccination rates.
This is excellent news and a Parliamentary Budget Review indicates conscientious objectors are not being roundly exploited to fill government coffers. Unless of course, they choose to be.
The success of the policy means a great number of Australians who previously registered as conscientious objectors, no longer do so. Therefore they are not being denied Child Care Benefit (CCB), Child Care Rebate (CCR) or Family Tax Benefit (Part A). It follows then that the government is not guaranteed financial profit from this policy.
The policy was implemented on January 1st this year. 5,738 children whose parents had previously denied them the protection of immunisation have been vaccinated since then. Social Services Minister, Christian Porter stated that 148,000 children who were not up to date with immunisations were now meeting requirements.
The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register indicates increases in immunisation for one, two and five year olds. For one and five year olds there has been an increase from 90% to 93%. The ABC reported:
Vaccination rates had fallen to such a historically low level, that we were seeing the re-emergence of diseases that we had been free of for years,” Mr Porter said.
“Of course, that was a matter of major concern to the overwhelming majority of parents who aren’t vaccination objectors and just want their kids to be safe.
In the Parliamentary Budget Review 2015-16 Michael Klapdor and Alex Grove published ‘No Jab No Pay’ and other immunisation measures. They note that No Jab No Pay involves closing off:
… some exemptions from the immunisation requirements for eligibility for the FTB-A [Family Tax Benefit, Part A] end-of-year supplement, Child Care Benefit (CCB) and Child Care Rebate (CCR) payments stating that it was extremely concerned at the risk non-vaccinated children pose to public health. […]
On 12 April 2015, the Government announced that it would remove the conscientious objector exemption but retain the medical and Christian Scientist exemption. On 19 April 2015, Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, announced that after discussions with the Church of Christ, Scientist, their specific exemption would be removed as the Church advised it was no longer necessary.
Also reported today is that families may lose up to $15,000 per year if parents fail to have their children vaccinated. As readers may well be aware, and as is evident in the above paragraphs from the Budget Review, “failing to have their children vaccinated” would be an insistence to deny one’s children vaccine induced immunity, by remaining “conscientious objectors”.
There is no sound reason to make this choice. There never has been, and it is most regrettable that the anti-vaccine lobby has worked feverishly to further distress those who hold misguided anti-vaccine beliefs. One theme has been that the right to make “health choices” has been removed. Or, promises of court action to challenge the legislation on the back of donations scammed by The Australian Vaccination-sceptics Network. Another, that the government would profit financially from discriminating against conscientious objectors.
However a close read of Klapdor and Grove’s Budget Review shows this claim loses credibility as more children of conscientious objectors are vaccinated. Conscientious objectors make up “a minority of the total number of children not up-to-date with their vaccination schedules”. Only 20% of one, two and five year olds not up to date with vaccinations [citation]. The authors cover in depth a number of “other immunisation measures” aimed at raising and maintaining immunisation levels, and finish their review with:
Through these efforts to improve coverage rates, coupled with financial penalties for non-compliance with immunisation schedules, the Government believes that it is taking a ‘balanced “carrot and stick” approach’ to encouraging vaccination. Of course, the sizeable savings expected from the ‘stick’ element may not be realised if these policies succeed in significantly lifting childhood immunisation rates.
The question then, is what percentage of conscientious objectors does the 5,738 children vaccinated since January 1st represent? Using Klapdor and Grove’s reference we may take the figure on page iv. 14,869 children aged one, two or five years were recorded as conscientious objectors in 2012-13. Klapdor and Grove state that whilst there has been an increase in immunisation rates since 1998 overall rates have remained static in recent years [citation].
Thus with some degree of reasonable confidence we may view the 5,738 children of conscientious objectors reported by Social Services Minister Christian Porter, as a percentage of 14,869. This figure of 38.6%, in light of the historical data cited in the Budget Review, might reasonably be viewed as “significantly lifting childhood immunisation rates”, to quote from Klapdor and Grove. And as these authors reasoned a lift in immunisation rates would mean that, “the sizeable savings expected from the ‘stick’ element may not be realised”.
Thus the antivaccinationist claim that they would be exploited to fill government coffers is at this stage seemingly without merit. More to the point if antivaccinationists wish to retain their status as conscientious objectors they are making a conscious choice for financial hardship.
Immunise Australia have provided the below summary and catch up recommendations for children 10 – 19 years.
No Jab No Pay New Immunisation Requirements For Family Assistance Payments
From 1 January 2016:
- Only parents of children (less than 20 years of age) who are fully immunised or are on a recognised catch-up schedule can receive the Child Care Benefit, the Child Care Rebate and the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement. The relevant vaccinations are those under the National Immunisation Program (NIP), which covers the vaccines usually administered before age ve. These vaccinations must be recorded on the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register (ACIR).
- Children with medical contraindications or natural immunity for certain diseases will continue to be exempt from the requirements.
- Conscientious objection and vaccination objection on non-medical grounds will no longer be a valid exemption from immunisation requirements.
- Families eligible to receive family assistance payments and have children less than 20 years of age, who may not meet the new immunisation requirements, will be notified by Centrelink.
- To support these changes, the ACIR is being expanded. From 1 January 2016, you will be able to submit the details of vaccinations given to persons less than 20 years of age to the ACIR.1. Free catch-up for children less than 10 years of ageFrom 1 January 2016, all states and territories will be providing free catch-up NIP vaccines for all children less than 10 years of age on an on-going basis.2. Free catch-up for young persons 10 to 19 years of age, of families who currently receive family assistance paymentsFrom 1 January 2016, parents who wish to immunise their children in order to continue to receive family assistance payments will have access to free catch- up vaccines for a time-limited period (1 January 2016 to 31 December 2017).