No Jab, No Play, No Pay: Denying Anti-Vaxers Welfare Is Right

MOVES BY THE ABBOTT GOVERNMENT to strip so-called “conscientious objectors” of childcare benefits and other welfare payments in response to the refusal to vaccinate their children is welcome, highly appropriate, and long overdue; vaccination is arguably the single greatest contributor to increases in human life expectancy over the past 200 years; it is a reasonable expectation of society, and should not be rewarded in the breach in any way.

At the outset, I should like to note that I have a former colleague and dearly valued friend who is one of the smartest and best-intentioned people I know — and if she is reading this, she knows who she is — who is nevertheless adamant that her child should not be vaccinated (and hasn’t been) and is vehemently opposed to any regime of compulsory childhood vaccinations, or indeed to any vaccinations at all, and whilst I respect her right to her opinion, I vehemently and utterly disagree with her (and have told her as much, for those who wonder about such things).

90% of the population — based on a vote of the feet, or in other words the current overall rate of childhood immunisations nationally — agree with me, the medical community, and the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence that vaccinations save lives.

90%, however, is not enough: for “herd immunity” to be truly effective in eliminating dreadful diseases from our communities, that vaccination rate needs to be at least 94%.

I am very pleased, therefore, to see that in joining the so-called “No Jab, No Play” campaign that is seeing unvaccinated children excluded from day care centres, preschools and (ultimately) schools across the country, the Abbott government has announced it will terminate the entitlement to the childcare allowance, childcare rebate, Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement (and the “bonus” payable for vaccinating children) for parents refusing to complete a recommended schedule of immunisations for their children.

With “No Jab, No Play” increasingly excluding children from child care anyway, ending the entitlement of parents to the government subsidies that apply to it are the logical next step, and one with which I have no quibble whatsoever.

The impact of the measures could cost miscreant families who refuse to immunise their kids up to $15,000 per year, although it could hardly be said to constitute a budget saving — which is perhaps why, for once, Labor “leader” Bill Shorten has made supportive noises, although I will believe Labor’s support is forthcoming when and if it votes for the enabling legislation once it reaches the Senate.

A selection of additional articles from the mainstream press on this issue may be accessed here, here and here, and covers both the Murdoch and Fairfax perspectives on the matter.

And we have spoken about the vaccination issue in this column once before, about 18 months ago. I urge all readers with an interest in this issue to reread my original article on it.

I’m not going to labour the point this evening; I suspect readers will have guessed from my silence this weekend I have been otherwise occupied, but I want to make a few general — albeit deadly salient — points in the context of this change.

The single greatest hook the anti-vax crowd has ever had to hang its rubbish on — the “study” by disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism — was motivated, not that the deadbeat advocates of anti-vaccination “skepticism” would care to admit, by a desire by the good Dr Wakefield to promote sales of a rival, measles-only vaccine produced by a company in which he held considerable investment interests.

That reality is a microcosm of the entire hypocrisy of the blather of powerful anti-vaccination advocates; on the one level, they are happy to leap on the suggestion that vaccines — any vaccine, in fact — might cause autism, despite the “research” drawing that link being thoroughly discredited and the link comprehensively disproven beyond doubt.

Yet they are happy to keep quiet about Dr Wakefield’s real motives — to promote vaccine sales — in a classic case of refusing to let facts get in the way of a good story.

A story is all it is; in the same breath, the overwhelming majority of the allegedly conscientious objectors to vaccination (read: people who think they know better than the best medical practitioners in the world) are nonetheless happy to back up for the miracles of modern medicine when there’s something wrong with them.

If their kids come down with whooping cough, they have the temerity to demand that the medical fraternity cures them quickly, cheaply, and without complication or consequence, despite having thumbed their noses at the safest, best, and most effective treatment medical science can offer: immunity from the infection in the first place.

And whilst it’s a tangential path that I don’t intend to divert too far along, those of the “conscientious” objectors who also spurn orthodox medicine at other times ought to be having something of a wake-up call this year, as assorted frauds and charlatans are exposed for the callous, sooth-saying rent seekers they are.

Belle Gibson and her “miracle” recovery from “terminal” cancer. The so-called “wellness warrior” who secretly accepted chemotherapy treatment when it was too late and at the time her cancer had all but killed her. On and on it goes. Yet there are just enough simpletons and gullible fools prepared to eschew scientific reality to oxygenate the fairy stories and myths peddled by such cruel and cavalier snake oil merchants.

Vaccination is not perfect; no science is. But it is exponentially preferable to the alternatives, such as they are.

Like any medicine, there is a tiny risk of adverse reaction; from itches and runny noses to febrile convulsions and severe allergic reactions, any medicine can cause these (and other) side effects.

Yet the proposed changes to accessibility to child welfare payments will account for these; any kid who experiences such a response will be provided with a medical exemption from vaccination, and that is reasonable.

But “fear” that a child might experience such a response is not grounds for exemption, and nor should it be; if you follow such specious logic to its inevitable conclusion, you’d never get out of bed in the morning.

Ironically, vaccines today are safer than they have ever been; although the countless millions saved from smallpox by a scrape of pus from a cow suffering cowpox in the early 1800s, or those prevented from dying of tetanus through an infusion containing horse blood, would scarcely have complained in the way the anti-vaccination lobby does now.

It’s true vaccines don’t protect everyone; some people’s immune systems simply don’t respond to them, or if they do, generate only partial immunity to the pathogen they are designed to protect against.

This is why the “herd immunity” conferred by 94% or higher being vaccinated is so critical; if the overwhelming majority of people experience efficacious immune responses to a vaccine, they won’t get the disease: and by not getting it themselves, it slashes the risk those who cannot be immunised for medical reasons (or in whom the vaccine doesn’t produce the response) can get infected too.

About the closest thing anti-vax advocates come to a meaningful argument against vaccines is the presence of thiomersal — a preservative containing of mercury — in the vaccines given to children.

Yes, mercury is a poison, that in the right circumstances can cause all manner of health problems in human beings, including mental retardation and death. But the mercury in thiomersal used in vaccines is present in trace amounts only, and reputable medical studies worldwide have been unable to prove it poses a health risk.

In any case, didn’t any of these parents ever get doused with mercurochrome in their own childhood, and live to tell the tale? There is more mercury present in mercurochrome solutions than there is in a vaccine, and that form of medicinal mercury is perfectly safe as well.

Seldom do I advocate what could in any way be construed as the “big hand of big brother” by those who would choose to regard it as such, and even rarer is my insistence that such an action is not only accceptable, but in the best interests of the public good.

But the expectation that parents vaccinate their children before they are then allowed to socialise and intermingle with their peers is perfectly reasonable, and I have no issue at all with a government withdrawing all forms of financial family aid from parents until such time as they do.

Here in Australia we have already seen waves of resurgent pertussis, or whooping cough, which is fast regaining a foothold in infant populations thanks to falling vaccination rates; pertussis has killed children in recent times in a series of high-profile cases, and in most of these the infection was passed from an unvaccinated adult or an adult whose immunity had lapsed.

This, in turn, is another argument of anti-vaxers that is easily shot to pieces: that with the protection offered by immunisation wearing off in time, the whole exercise is in fact a waste of time and money.

Solution? Get a booster shot. Simple. Cheap. And a damned side safer than bloody whooping cough, too.

The frightening thing is that as bad as whooping cough is — and has already killed Australian children, in an era when no child should die from an easily preventable disease — whooping cough is a relative cakewalk compared to some of the other nasties that might be the next cabs off the rank to make a reappearance in Australia.

We have already seen measles clusters appearing with more and more frequency; there are reports elsewhere in the world of the re-emergence of polio. And should diphtheria ever make a comeback, something like whooping cough would seem minor alongside such a dreadful and excruciatingly malevolent disease.

If you have children, it is a reasonable expectation you have those children vaccinated.

If you don’t — electing, therefore, not to allow your child to be a participant in Australian society — it is right and it is fair that payments for childcare, family based tax relief, and even the monetary bonus for completing child immunisation schedules (that, incredibly, continues to be paid to “conscientious” objectors) are all terminated.

There should be no provision for exemption based on religion: as Social Services minister Scott Morrison has said, there are no religions that have registered vaccination objections with the government, and anyone coming to this country must, as far as I am concerned, accept that the immunisation of children (and previously unvaccinated adults too, for that matter) is an expectation of Australian residents that is non-negotiable.

And insofar as any other objection is concerned, unless an individual child has a specific, life-threatening medical reason that is certified by an appropriately qualified medical practitioner, there should be none: “conscience” doesn’t cut it, when the consequences are in fact to aid and abet the spread of insidious diseases that ought to have been eradicated and which in fact only exist in the community at all because of falling vaccination rates.

There are those who will disagree, and to those people I say that they are entitled to their views.

They are also wrong, and nothing I have ever seen from so-called experts in the anti-vaxer lobby withstands even the most cursory scientific scrutiny.

It might be trendy — or “natural” — not to vaccinate your kid, and you might think you would never hurt him/her, or that your motives are the purest and best in the world.

You might also be one of those people who simply don’t care about the (infinitesimal) risk of side-effects other kids might experience from a vaccine so long as they don’t happen to your kid, and that other people’s kids can achieve the “herd immunity” on your behalf that will protect your own little Johnny/Dora, and if this summarises your outlook then frankly you don’t deserve to have children at all, let alone the money the government is about to terminate your access to.

As adults in society, we have an obligation to those too young to decide for themselves, or take action in their own best interests: and in this case, making sure children have all the recommended vaccines for their various stages are development is one of the best ways we can do this, helping to ensure that when they reach adulthood they will have the opportunity to make similar decisions for their own kids themselves.

And as food for thought for the do-gooder types who don’t bother to vaccinate their kids, what will you say to them if — in their 20s — they go off to explore the world and pick up diphtheria, or polio, or God-knows-what in some far-flung third world outpost simply because you were derelict in your negligence of them as a child?

Hmmm?

I think what has been announced is long overdue. No jab, no play, and now no pay.

There will be those who will jib; there always is. But on this occasion — happily, and in the best interests of at least all the other kids, if not their own — the view of those people no longer carries any official weight at all, and will no longer be indulged with stipends of taxpayer money made dependent on courses of action they have no intention of undertaking.