Comment: No Jab, No Pay won’t improve vaccination rates

Vaccine
The government wants to link child vaccination to welfare payments.

The 'no jab, no pay' policy may not be enough incentive for the affluent vaccine objectors or the fence-sitters, writes Saman Shad.

My daughter used to attend a “hippy” preschool in an affluent part of Sydney. What I loved about the place was the gentle approach to schooling and the great time my daughter had there. What I didn’t like were the number of parents I met who openly admitted to me they didn’t vaccinate their kids. Some said they chose to vaccinate their children for certain diseases but not others – kind of like picking and choosing from some kind of awful childhood disease menu.

I’m very much pro vaccination – I believe most educated, knowledgeable people are. Which is why I had such a tough time understanding why these educated people were choosing to go against scientific advice.

There were many reasons they chose not to vaccinate – the much discredited autism link was one of them. For others it was fear of Big Pharma companies, the thought they were inserting bad chemicals into their children’s bodies thus going against the natural holistic way they chose to live, and for some they just didn’t believe these vaccines worked as effectively as they should.

For such parents the recent government cuts to child benefits for those not vaccinating their children won’t be much of an incentive to change their mind – they are what some experts have termed “hardcore objectors” and they are pretty much set in their beliefs.

Many of these hardcore objectors live in affluent areas. Some of the lowest rates of immunisation 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.

As for those parents who are on the fence about whether to vaccinate their children or not, the recent legislation may actually end up turning them away from vaccinating.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, has warned withholding welfare is likely to be ineffective.  

“Bringing in this kind of draconian measure is likely to run the risk of driving those parents, who at this stage are just uncertain, to being hardcore refusers themselves… They work, they pay taxes. They have an entitlement to those benefits”.

On the other side of the coin almost half of all incompletely vaccinated children are hampered by poverty and lack of access to medical services. It seems unfair to punish those who are already hard up to face cuts in benefits equalling up to $15,000 per child. Wouldn’t it be better to instead support them with greater access to services along with information and advice about the options available?

The more you look at the government’s “No jab, no pay” policy the more it seems unlikely to improve vaccination rates. It is another policy that seems to be directly punishing the children rather than their parents. It is these kids who will be denied access to childcare, thereby restricting their opportunity to learn, socialise and develop along with their peers – important especially for those children from deprived backgrounds. It is also corralling unvaccinated children together – many parents of unvaccinated children I know send their kids to family daycare to circumvent childcare policies - thereby increasing the risk of these kids catching diseases.

In addition, by introducing legislation that bars some people from receiving childcare benefits the government is opening the door to introduce further legislation restricting other groups from accessing benefits.

All in all the “no jab no pay” policy seems to be a hasty response to a situation that could be much improved with grassroots action. By increasing access to services for those unable to reach the doctor and by educating those who may either be on the fence about vaccination or not fully aware of the consequences of not vaccinating their children we can make actual change. Instead, by changing legislation and financially penalising those who are already disadvantaged we could be making the situation worse.