Australia Removes Religious Exemption for Childhood Vaccinations

The Australian Government plans to stop some welfare payments for those parents who do not vaccinate their children. Meaning they are no longer likely to receive any childcare benefit or rebate, nor receive the Family Tax Benefit A end of year supplement.

The policy is expected to become effective from 1 January 2016.

It is also now to apply to those whom formerly claimed religious exemption from childhood vaccines, such as the Christian Scientists. This apparently closes the exemption loophole which permitted those not vaccinating their children on religious grounds; and the vaccination exemption loophole is being ever tightened elsewhere.

For a religion to gain an accepted exemption from childhood vaccinations, the religion’s governing body would need to formally apply and have its objections approved by the Government.

Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison, has stated: “There are no mainstream religions who have such objections registered.” Further noting that the exemption put in place in 1998 for the Church of Christ, Scientist, “is no longer current or necessary” hence its removal.

Legitimate and legal exemption from childhood immunisation in Australia may still be sought on medical grounds. Including the onset of brain disease within seven days of a prior vaccination, allergic reactions or allergy to a vaccine or its ingredients, and due to unstable neurological disease.

To boost immunisation rates in Australia, doctors are to receive incentive payments of $12 for maintaining a child’s vaccination schedule and to encourage general practitioners to contact families directly regarding their vaccination schedules.

The policy is also aimed to help stop those resisting childhood immunisations on looser “conscientious objection” grounds.

Overall, to the extent that welfare is considered a public good, the Government’s offering of greenmail to receive welfare payments in exchange for doing the public good does not seem unreasonable.

As Minister Morrison reported, related to the Church of Christ, Scientist, the “religion is not advising members to avoid vaccinating their children”.

Which, if shared, also seems like a positive step regarding vaccinations with respect to other religious viewpoints. Of note is that those not vaccinating their children on religious grounds are typically in the minority. As are religions opposing vaccinations in general.

Brian Owler of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), noted that it’s largely about the decision of the parents, but it’s the children who bear the brunt of it. With other initiatives required to increase vaccination rates, including parents seeing that general practitioners are a credible source of information regarding vaccinations. As Owler stated in The Guardian:

“You have to keep going with the education, the right messaging, to the media and the public to get parents to the right sources of information and to call out the anti-vax lobby for what it is: essentially scaremongering conspiracy theorists and peddling a load of rubbish and endangering lives doing it.”

Whilst medical procedures, such as blood transfusions, may be refused on religious grounds, these typically relate more to the choice of, and directly impact, the individual alone. Whereas refusing vaccination against preventable infectious diseases has the capacity to impact beyond the individual and to public health at large. So it seems less justified.

This is utilitarian philosophy though. Related to doing the most good, for the most people. Which can lead to a violation of the rights of the individual should they be outweighed by what is considered collectively right for others.

Yet for as much as this may concern moral philosophers, regarding childhood vaccinations, the scientific evidence is quite clear. Where the morality of those not immunising their children whether on religious grounds or as conscientious objectors, seems – with all due respect – as more borne of a combination of a lack of information and misinformation. Which may be troubling in that the parents need to make the decision on behalf of their children. Who as a minors are not in a position to give informed consent.

Is the Australian Government’s ‘No Jab No Pay’ policy a moral dilemma and of religious grounds, or, a case of scientific fact and a secular non-issue; the answer could be a cultural perspective on vaccines and may require considering the opinions to multiple questions.

Is welfare a public good and so rests upon doing the public good, and are vaccination programmes a good thing for a society to pursue?

Is the separation of church and state relevant in something such as enforcing or opposing childhood immunisations, or does the science trump religion on this matter?

Where does an individual’s rights rest with something like vaccines for children, given they’re minors and their parents may be uninformed or misinformed, should the government override the parental decision and at what cost?

Have your say, and try answering the uthinki question by pressing the green button below to help with understanding what others are thinking on the childhood immunisation matter. That should be incentive enough.

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Feature Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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  • Sarah

    So not only will Tassie be known as the state that arrests peaceful abortion protesters, it will now also be known as the state that financially penalises families that do not want to have the end result of abortions injected into their children! Way to go Australia!