Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, made waves April 12 when he revealed his intention to cut welfare benefits for parents who opt to not vaccinate their children. This initiative would cut out the option for a “conscientious objection” and refusal to vaccinate for religious reasons. The only exemption to vaccination would be for documented medical reasons, reports The Washington Post. The Prime Minister claims that his motives behind the initiative are for the protection and wellbeing of the children. “Australia now has childhood vaccination rates over 90 percent… but more needs to be done to ensure we protect our children and our community from preventable diseases,” Abbott said. However, with a 90 percent vaccination rate and a tiny community of anti-vaccination activists, this policy to cut benefits for everyone who opts not to vaccinate their children is overkill.
It has been estimated that the number of people who do not vaccinate their children because of forgetfulness or other issues is higher than those who have a moral opposition to vaccination. “… more than half of the 7% [of people who don’t vaccinate], face practical, economic, social or geographic impediments to full and timely vaccination. They are more likely to experience poverty or social exclusion,” reports Theconversation.com. “…‘around 97 per cent’ of FTB (family tax benefit) recipient children meet the immunisation requirements,” Reports the Australian Broadcast Corporation. This means that cutting welfare in order to promote vaccination will not work. Anti-vaccination protestors are the target for this initiative but many of them are not on welfare, therefore they will not be affected by it at all. This means that welfare recipients are being punished financially for something that they did not intentionally attempt to avoid. “… It would be more effective to implement a national vaccine reminder system, home visiting programs, and to build respect for vaccination centres. This, of course, would cost money,” writes Jason Wilson of The Guardian.
Wilson goes on to point out that, “Regardless of your personal opinion of anti-vaxxers, the best evidence we have says they are marginal both politically and numerically.” This being said, it would be completely unnecessary to penalize families who do not vaccinate their children if it only amounts to 3 percent of the population. This is especially true, considering that the probability that these individuals are forgetful is higher than them being anti-vaccination activists. A system designed to remind parents of vaccinations would be more efficient in raising vaccination rates than cutting their welfare.
Vaccinations are incredibly important and those running anti-vaccination campaigns rely on pseudoscience to make their claims against vaccinations, according to The Daily Beast. However, cutting welfare for those who do not vaccinate their children will not deter anti-vaccination activists and is therefore useless. Many “anti-vaxxers” are not on welfare and are so passionate in their beliefs that vaccinations are harmful that taking away their benefits will do nothing to persuade them to vaccinate. The better way to increase vaccinations is to provide incentive as opposed to taking benefits away. It would be more productive to educate the public on vaccinations, how they work and why they’re important. This would prevent people from developing beliefs about vaccinations based on misinformation and could encourage forgetful parents to vaccinate their children.
Prime Minister Abbott’s decision to cut welfare benefits has caused some unrest because people don’t want to be forced to vaccinate. Even vaccination advocates are raising their eyebrows at this initiative, feeling that being “coerced” into vaccination will only make anti-vaccination activists more resentful towards the government, according to Melissa Davey of the Guardian. This distrust towards the government will only work against the initiative causing anti-vaxxers to cling stubbornly to their beliefs. The community who is directly impacted by Abbott’s decision are the people on welfare. They are not the community that is opposed to vaccinations and therefore penalizing them for the actions of the anti-vaccination activists is not right. Instead, education about vaccinations and reminders for parents needs to be the priority.
Sam Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.