Vaccination: no child care benefits for conscientious objectors or religion grounds

From 1 January 2016, the Commonwealth government will remove “conscientious objection” as an exemption category for child care payments (Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate) and the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement.

In a joint statement titled “No jab – no play and no pay for child care”, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Social Services said “Parents who vaccinate their children should have confidence that they can take their children to child care without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others.”

Exemptions on medical grounds will continue, but so also will those on religious grounds. However, a religious objection will only be available where the person is affiliated with a religious group where the governing body has a formally registered objection approved by the Government.

At the time of the launch, Scott Morrison, the Minister for Social Services, told the press that the affiliation with a registered religious group is “the only basis upon which you can have a religious exemption, and there are no mainstream religions that have such objections registered so this would apply to a very, very small proportion of people.

“It’d be lucky to be in the thousands, if that.”

But within a week that exemption was also removed.

“We have had further discussions with the Church of Christ, Scientist and have formed the view that the registered exemption they have had in place is no longer current or necessary and therefore it will be removed,’’ he said.

“They are not advising anyone in their religion not to vaccinate people.

“Having spoken to them we no longer see that exemption as being current. As a result, there is no longer any religious exemption for vaccination. And there won’t be any religious exemptions for vaccinations.

“So the only exemption now is medical. We’re not accepting any further exemptions from any religious exemptions.

Immunisation requirements for the payment of FTB Part A end-of-year supplement will also be extended to include children of all ages. Currently, vaccination status is only checked at ages 1, 2 and 5 years.

This means that vaccine objectors will not be able to access these government payments.

“The new policy will tighten up the rules and reinforce the importance of immunisation and protecting public health, especially for children,” the Ministers said.

“Australia now has childhood vaccination rates over 90 per cent, from one to five years of age, but more needs to be done to ensure we protect our children and our community from preventable diseases.”

While vaccination rates in Australia had increased since the Childhood Immunisation Register was established in 1996, vaccine objection rates for children under the age of seven have also increased steadily, especially under the conscientious objector category.

More than 39,000 children aged under seven are not vaccinated because their parents are vaccine objectors. This is an increase of more than 24,000 children over 10 years.

“The choice made by families not to immunise their children is not supported by public policy or medical research,” the Ministers said, “nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments.”

At the time of writing, there was no official statement from the Australian [anti]Vaccination Skeptics Network, although some comments were lodged on its Facebook page. One such comment suggested that the move was purely to save money.