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Forcing poor parents to vaccinate isn’t the answer

Hypodermic needleVaccinating children against horrible diseases is as self-evidently beneficial—both to individuals and to society—as it’s possible to be. It is one of the greatest achievements of humankind that we can spare entire generations from disfigurement, paralysis, and horrific death due to illnesses which sound medieval to modern ears. So let me be clear before I go any further:

Please have your child vaccinated unless your family doctor advises otherwise.

Australia has for some time linked a child’s vaccination to its parents’ entitlement to some forms of Family Assistance: no vaccination meant no benefits. However, if a parent had a conscientious objection to vaccination (a ‘personal, philosophical, religious or medical belief involving a conviction that vaccination … should not take place’), the requirement could be waived. In other words, the parent’s right to consent on behalf of their child was left intact.

The Australian Senate just decided that, on 1st January 2016, the conscientious objection exemption will be removed: this has become known as the ‘no jab, no pay’ law. In the new regime, parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated will have benefits withheld.

It may surprise some of my readers that I do not approve of this measure. I’ve already set out my stall vaccine-wise, and I don’t intend this post to serve as any succour for the ‘anti-vax’ movement, proponents of which range from the misguided through the misinformed to the reprehensible and ultimately the fraudulent. But I cannot agree with a law that—

  • is inequitable, in that it has a disproportionate effect on the poor. Misinformed and frightened parents will be forced into compliance with the vaccination schedule, leaving them wracked with guilt and resentment that they have been coerced into harming their child in order to put food on the table. At the same time, affluent but credulous parents will happily forego their Family Assistance to keep their child ‘safe’, no doubt spreading the vaccine-causes-autism virus throughout the suburbs.
  • is ultimately going to harm children. There will be parents who will, for whatever reason, avoid vaccination at all costs. The impact of crippling their finances will be felt most by their children, who are the only innocent parties in all this.
  • coerces a parent into consenting to medical treatment for their child. As a point of principle I believe that, unless the child is seriously neglected or in grave and imminent danger, a parent should have full autonomy and domain when it comes to their child’s healthcare. While there is clearly a great risk in remaining unvaccinated, in my opinion the risk does not outweigh this principle.

I feel strongly that all children should be vaccinated, but if governments take any action it should be to ensure that parents have the access to the best information and advice. The information should be straightforward and compelling, and should have full references for those that wish to learn more. The case for vaccination is so strong that it should be easy to sweep aside the screaming rhetoric of the small lunatic fringe. Ultimately this is all that can—and all that should—be done.

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1 Comment

  1. Ganesh Sittampalam

    How about just compelling it directly?

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