It’s pretty clear to anyone who knows me or has read HandbagMafia for a while that I think vaccines are pretty awesome. I’m no scientist, however, I have read enough quality sources of information and spoken to people far more learned than I am to know they are safe and effective for the vast majority of people. I think we are pretty freaking lucky to live in a society where we can protect ourselves and our children from deadly diseases and it’s also probably pretty clear to you that I don’t appreciate lies and conspiracy theories around this topic.

It can’t be ignored that it’s a hell of a privileged society that feels free to choose whether or not to vaccinate. As this piece on XO Jane points out- it takes time and money to refuse to vaccinate. It also takes living in a country where many of these diseases are rare or eradicated thanks to things like high vaccination rates and our old pal, herd immunity. Although this article looks at America, the reasoning and basics apply here, too.

No Jab, No Pay

The government is now proposing measures which involve cuts to the benefits obtained by those who don’t vaccinate on non-medical grounds. This will be a portion of the family tax benefit paid to lower income families and also the child care benefit which is accessible to all regardless of income and covers 50% of out of pocket childcare expenses (capped at $7500) per year.

I’m struggling to decide if I agree with this or not. Surprising, right?

Bodily Autonomy

I’m a feminist. A big part of my beliefs centre around bodily autonomy which is something I believe everyone has the right to. I believe, as a feminist parent, that I have the right and the responsibility to ensure the safety and well being of my children. Obviously, vaccinations are given before children are old enough to decide for themselves. When they are babies, parents must make decisions for them We are the guardians of their bodies until they are old enough to take back that guardianship. I don’t believe in any unnecessary modifications to the bodies of babies and children. So no routine circumcision, no ear piercing. Vaccinations, however, I believe are necessary. They are necessary for my children– to protect them from potentially deadly disease. They are necessary for my community, to protect the vulnerable; the elderly, the newly born, the immune compromised. So this is where I make a decision for them. There are many times I will do so- when they are sick or injured or even what they will eat. I believe we have the job of doing the best we can for them before they begin to make their own choices.

Vaccination

When it comes to vaccination, all available evidence tells me this is the best choice to make for my kids. It’s a no-brainer for me. However, many are being swept up in the conspiracies and lies put out by anti-vaccination proponents who have their own agendas. You know, they want to sell membership or homeopathic vaccine substitutes or quack remedies or whatever. They are convincing. They often sound like they know what they’re talking about. They use fear and lies and anecdotes to make vaccination seem like the most dangerous thing on earth, even though it is estimated to be saving 3 million lives every year.

Where Income Plays a Part

With the plan the government has put forward, the choice has not been entirely removed from parents. Parents can still decline vaccination. Here’s where it gets a bit murky for me.

If a wealthy parent decides not to vaccinate and feels strongly about it- this policy won’t mean a thing. They aren’t reliant on family tax benefit. They can afford to pay full costs for daycare, if they use it at all. They will cop it on the chin and stick to their guns, however misguided.

If a lower income family has the same level of conviction, there is every chance they will not choose to vaccinate either. Some might feel forced to, but many will not “give in”, so to speak.

So who bears the brunt of a lower income family being worse off, financially? Obviously it will be a struggle for those parents but it will undoubtedly adversely affect their children, as well. There is a good chance they will miss out on activities and extras. For families who are very or even wholly reliant on government benefits for whatever reason- their kids stand to lose quite a bit. Does a financial punishment that affects the whole family for the parent’s decision seem appropriate?

I think if there is to be a financial consequence, it needs to be equitable. I don’t know how best to do that.

Religious Exemption

There’s also mention of a narrow “religious exemption” option. I couldn’t find any recognised religion that is against vaccination. I found one that charges a joining fee and seems to be associated with the Australian Vaccination Sceptics Network- Australia’s most notorious anti-vaccination group. I don’t think religion has any place in a discussion on public health policy, personally.

Education

What would be even better, though, is some education. Why not a special unit of education on this in high school? A bit of a long-term strategy right there. Let’s take it a little further, too.  You want to be a conscientious objector? No worries. Let’s get conscientious. By that I mean you have to pass a course. This course should teach you how to interpret information and research to a certain level. This course should teach you about the history of the diseases we vaccinate against. This course should include footage and pictures of people who have these diseases you are so against preventing- you should be made to see what it is you are leaving your children open to as well as risking in other people. Not to scare you into it but to actually show you what these diseases are.

Like this- this is Polio in a little girl:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is Pertussis just a day before it claimed Baby Riley’s life:

You get the point. Along with this should come numbers. How many people died of these diseases before vaccines? What proportion of the population at the time was that? How many are dying or being permanently adversely affected by these diseases now in parts of the world where vaccines aren’t accessible to most? How does this compare to adverse events associated with vaccines? Yes, adverse reactions are possible with vaccines- but how common is it and what are these reactions? How many are serious and how many are minor? How much does it cost the government to provide vaccines? What research do they based their schedule on?

Accountability

Along with this kind of education, I believe organisations promoting anti-vaccine lies should be held to account. Obviously overseas based groups can’t be- but Australian ones can and should be asked to prove all their claims or risk serious consequences. After all, people getting sick and spreading deadly disease is the consequence we all face now as a result of these groups and their lies. Alternative health practitioners found to be telling families not to vaccinate should be held to the same standard- come before a medical board and prove your claims with solid evidence or cease and freaking desist. Police it with the odd “mystery shopper” and a reporting line. If you don’t- you can’t legally practice. It’s not difficult- as a health practitioner you should not be advising outside your scope anyway. Fines would be appropriate here and serious further consequences for breaching these rules.

Education, not Force

I guess the point I’m making here is that it’s better to educate parents rather than force them. I know this isn’t quite the same as making vaccination compulsory- but it isn’t far off and just fuels the “government conspiracy” believers. Instead- arm them with knowledge and information and give them the tools to interpret it. The biggest problem is mistrust- essentially forcing people to do something doesn’t win their trust. Explaining to them, educating them, being transparent with them- this will go a lot further. Some people might complete my proposed course and still not vaccinate. Some dodgy practitioners might slip though the net for a while and keep giving bad advice. But I would put money on non-vaccinators becoming an even smaller minority.

 

 

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  • Love the idea of a compulsory course for conscientious objectors. They should at least need to prove that they are conscientious in their objections… But yes, as you say, some people may still choose to ignore the facts and still decide to not vaccinate.

    This has been a pretty hot topic, but personally, I think the Govt has made a good call. I feel safer for my kids knowing that all kids who are able to be vaccinated, will be.

    • I would feel safer too if I thought it would work- I really think that when you use force, you just meet resistance.

  • I agree. Education would be much more effective and equitable. But education also costs a lot of money whereas this policy will SAVE money. Cynical much? Hell, yes.

    • Yep, exactly!

    • Kris

      The education idea is of course preferable but it relies on the assumption that people will be open to what they hear and accept it when it’s explained. The reality, though, is that people don’t want to hear that and get off on being “truth knowers” who aren’t “sheeple” and who have “done their research” to “educate” themseIves. I see the utter crap these people post daily, and as someone who actively counters it, education is a noble idea but discounts their behaviour.
      I also think people underestimate how many people the $7500 being cut will affect.

  • I see both sides of the story in this move and I must still say, I am for it. Children are the ones who will suffer or die from these diseases if we do not continue measures as a society to control them. This policy, though problematic for families who cannot afford to lose their payments, will certainly make some think harder on the topic and if they still insist against vaccination, they can opt out and maybe find another source of income.

    • It will definitely force the issue and if it saves some from illness and even death, then it has worked- I just wonder if there is not a better way.

  • Did you see the post this week on the mother of 7 in Ontario, Canada. She had all 7 kids get whooping cough. Only her 3 eldest were vaccinated when they were little, and after that nothing. Now she’s coming out as a pro-vaxxer. Hopefully this will change the minds of a lot of doubtful. I’ve had very heated discussions about this on my personal fb wall between friends. I find it strange I even have friends who don’t vaccinate? How can we be friends? I guess we find ways. They are overseas though, so I don’t have to make a decision about play dates…

    • I did see her story. What a wake-up call.
      I guess we see past all kinds of differences in our friends- it’s a divisive topic though!

  • You definitely raised a point about wealthy parents that I hadn’t thought of before. I’m still for the government’s stance with the family tax benefit exempt from families that don’t vaccinate because money is a big motivator even for low income earners. But I agree with your proposed solution of educating high school students. I think that’s a great starting point to tackle the issue.

    • I think if you educate youth thoroughly that knowledge will carry over into adulthood- hopefully leading to less anti vaxxers in future!

  • I love your even-handed cool headed look at this (I don’t mean even handed as in showing “both” sides of the vaccination debate, as I don”t believe that psuedo-science is a side).
    I really do believe that this government are doing this as a cheap money grab, and of course they target the poor, not the wealthy, as usual. I am totally pro-vax, but I agree with your concerns about how losing benefits might impact on children, and also on parents. I have a couple of non-vaxxers in my friendship circle, well more than a couple, but 2 very vocal ones. One is a dear friend who is so indocrintated with the psuedo-science conspiracy theories (she calls the rest of us “sheeples”) that I have stopped trying to engage her. I used to take each article that she posted, research it for all of the 5 minutes that it would take to de-bunk it, and then present the evidence to her. Nothing. She will not be turned. She thinks Andrew Wakefield iis unfairly maligned. She used to be sure that autistic kids have no light behind their eyes. Aside from all of this, she is a delightful woman, and a single mother. this will hurt her and her beautiful boys, and though I am so against her beliefs, I don’t agree that that is fair. We do still live in a democracy, and this measure means that only the rich can exercise the freedom to choose.
    I don’t know what the answer is though, as most anit-vaxxers absolutely refuse to listen to reason. Another on my friends list yesterday threatened to delete anyone posting their opinion about this measure (if it didn’t align with her pro-vaxx views on the matter). Sorry for the essay, I didn’t blog this week, I must be getting it out here haha.

    • Hahaha feel free to write away here Dani. I agree. I know a few who don’t vax- I don’t pretend to understand their reasoning and I don’t argue about it with them (at least one has unfriended me since posting about this- no idea if it’s a coincidence or what) because I figure nothing I say will convince anyone if they’ve made up their minds otherwise. I’m happy to discuss it but I don’t initiate the conversation. I agree with you- this seems to further the divide between the rich and the less rich and has really divided people already.

  • Natalie @ Our Parallel Connect

    I got uncomfortable with the no jab no pay and I beluebe with every inch of my body in vaccines … It’s the misinformation that is destroying this… The Internet is like my 5th child but some of the information you read is just plain wrong

  • I’m a bit like you and not sure how I feel about it. I am pro-vaccine of course, and have never considered any other option. And we would be a family that would be hurt by cut payments if we didn’t vaccinate, and I’m not sure that’s fair, because it is a belief for many people. education is definitely important, but will people see it as propaganda? I’m glad this is not my problem to solve.

    • I’d love a crack at solving it (with some seriously educated and qualified assistance of course!) It is a tough one though!

  • I think education is more the answer. And not scare tactics education but plain and simple factual information.

  • Devil’s advocate (surprise surprise) some people will never want to see the other side of this – even if there is a massive amount of proof, so yes it sounds like a good idea to educate those who aren’t educated but what about those that ARE educated and still don’t want their kids vaccinated? LOVE YOUR WORK x

  • I honestly thought you already had to get all vaccinations before you could get a lot of stuff from medicare or the government anyway? When she had her surgery last week they repeatedly asked if she’d had all her vaccinations and I swear I read in some centrelink letter that you had to have all vaccinations up to date to qualify for some benefits. I think both would be a good idea. I think a lot of people just aren’t educated or don’t think things will ever happen to them because they haven’t lived in a generation where any of these diseases have been prevalent so they really don’t understand the severity.

  • TeganMC

    I’ve been flip flopping all over the place about this one too. I think that financially penalising a vulnerable group (in this case the children) is never the answer. I don’t think it will convince those who are adamant that they aren’t vaccinating but I do think it may sway those sitting on the fence.

  • Great idea – I like the thought of a course to pass – bit like the citizenship test if you want to become an Aussie citizen.

    Visiting today from #teamIBOT x

  • Excellent post, Amy. I don’t think this is the right answer, but I don’t know what is. I agree we need to think about long term strategies, educating people properly and focusing on busting some of those myths. Gosh those images are confronting.

  • Great post. I really like the idea of having education in high school about it. Throw it in there with health class.

  • Great post. I think more education would definitely help. My Aunt contracted Polio when she was a little girl, the muscle damage still affects her day-to- day life. I’m all for vaccinating.

  • This is definitely one of those cases where there’s no right or wrong, because the kids lose either way. I’m all for vaccinating, the risks of not doing it are too horrific, as your images show. Thanks for putting the discussion out there Amy. People need to feel that they can have differing views, but still respect the other. Education needs to be the major factor here, I think.

  • I think you’ve very eloquently summed up the thoughts, beliefs, and confusion of many.

  • What a lot of thought and research went into this. I feel for those who think that vaccinations caused their child’s issues, but as a whole we need to protect each other and get the shots. For our children and for our society.

  • Tash from Gift Grapevine

    Fantastic post Amy – you’ve written this so eloquently. I’m with you on the education front. Education needs to happen in schools so the myths and false information can be quashed. Unfortunately propaganda and misinformation will continue to spread. As you say at the end of the post, in years to come I hope they will be in the minority.

  • Hi Amy. Thanks for sharing on the #BlogFairLinkParty. I agree that this policy hits those on welfare but won’t effect the wealthy – so that doesn’t seem fair.

  • I think it’s a start in the right direction, however not all that don’t immunise are on welfare payments. Maybe we need to look at exclusion from child care also for those not immunised.

    • I agree with this – kids can be homeschooled instead to remove the risk.

      • It’s an idea but would be very hard to implement

  • Kaz @ MeltingMoments

    Vaccinations are so important for us. Moo’s seizure are brought on my illness and the worse the illness or virus, the worse she suffers. Immunisation for her require a few days in hospital so she can be monitored (vaccinations trigger her seizures because of her condition). It’s tough but we have to do it to protect her.

  • I agree that this will not discourage the wealthy and your suggestion of a course is a great one. One thing I would like to see is transparency. I’ve just had a personal situation having a newborn and just found out a lady in our small playgroup has not immunised her child (for no good reason!). Her child has recently started daycare and picks up everything. Their choice affects others and I feel really upset that this could have put my vunerable newborn at risk. this is a serious issue with serious consequences so I feel that tough measures should be taken as this is not really this is a community choice/problem not just an individuals. Great post and love your thoughtfulness towards this subject.

    • It is hard when you don’t know if other kids are vaccinated. I’ve often seen people say “If your kids are vaccinated, why are you worried?” But that goes out the window when your baby is too young to be vaccinated.

  • Defining conscientious like that is BRILLIANT. I’m not against this policy. But I do think it’s more important that anti-vaxxers understand the consequences of their decisions and the science behind it than feel forced into it. The ‘how’ is the tricky bit. Bloody Google, providing ‘evidence’ for any point of view.

    • The how is so important. Some people will never be convinced. They have too much invested into the conspiracies. But it’s those who aren’t quite sure or think they’re erring on the side of caution that something like that might help. You never know!

  • Lilly Mary

    This week I watched my second cousin struggling to breath and then being rushed to the ER after a non-vaccinated kid in his school gave six other vaccinated kids whooping cough. He’s ok – because having been vaccinated meant the severity of his experience was less. Having had whooping cough myself, also vaccinated, three years ago, I know exactly how I feel about this. Wealthy or not, the vaccination is there for a reason. If you don’t want to vaccination, then perhaps you should also not be entitled to the health care that is available when your child gets sick…

    • Oh wow, I hope your cousin and his school mates are ok. It’s an awful illness.

  • I agree (as you know 😉 ) It’s so painful though, because I also think that all children who can be vaccinated should be vaccinated. I do like th idea of having making conscientious objectors do some kind of course to qualify them. I know some people will just put their fingers in their ears and go “lalalalalalala”… but…. it might just if nothing else plant a seed of doubt.

    ALSO I cringed at the announcement because it does just gives the conspiracy theory big-pharma-is-evil, govt is trying to poison us etc etc etc people more fuel to go “SEE they’re taking away our choices!” kind of thing. Ugh.

    • Yes it does fuel those conspiracies and that’s not ideal- I can’t help but think the government thinks it’s just a means to an end.

  • I agree. I think it’s the wrong approach. Bullying people will just make them put their backs up even more, and have no effect on people who are affluent enough to not need the money. I’m in favour of educating people, and changing the laws to make it compulsory for any child going to school to be vaccinated barring medical exemptions (I remember some kids who can’t be vaccinated against some things for medical reasons, or am I wrong?). Then if they don’t want to vax them, they can homeschool them. My uncle died of polio when he was a child because there were no vaccines for polio back then. No one deserves to have their kid catch something and get ill/die when it can be avoided. (Clearly very pro-vaccine here!). #endrant

    • Yes there are medical reasons some can’t have vaccinations and I agree they of course should not be expected to- these are the people the “herd” should protect! I have nursed elderly people who had polio as kids and survived- it’s an awful illness and I’m really glad we don’t have it here anymore.

  • Anna @ BombardedMum

    I agree that an education campaign is more worthy than taking money off those who rely on childcare. I have also seen first hand the devastation that kids in developing countries face without these vaccinations and their parents are desperate to keep their kids alive. They would do anything to have our vaccination system – as would many of the workers trying to vaccinate these little kids. Yes, it is the parents decision until it affects the rest of the community. Why have we forgotten how far we have come with health and technology and know we are the lucky ones that can save the heartache of our children dying from infectious disease by following the vaccination schedule. We moved to the US when my kids were 5, 3 and 1 and they had to have extra shots of almost everything so we got off pretty lightly in Australia in comparison. Thanks for posting a thought provoking article on the controversial topic.

    • Thanks Anna. Yes it’s a huge reminder of just how priveliged we are, to be able to choose to vax or not.

  • The first thing I asked myself when this policy was announced was: Who’s mind is this actually going to change? Is there a bunch of parents out there who are actually just lazy when it comes to vaccination and don’t go because they can’t be bothered? It’d work with them, but no other bunch I can think of.

    Smells to me like a bit of a savings measure/ “look at us getting tough!” policy…. But that’s my inner cynic.

    Loved the post and the suggestions!

    • Apparently quite a few people are a bit lax and have kids not fully vaccinated- that surprised me! So yes, this new policy will hopefully get them caught up at least.

  • Comadrona

    This is such a vexed question. Thoughtful parents rightly get concerned when an “all or nothing” approach is pushed. There is a question mark over “Herd Immunity” and there are definitely children who have been injured or killed by vaccines. Then we read things like this: http://thinkingmomsrevolution.com/an-open-letter-to-legislators-currently-considering-vaccine-legislation-from-tetyana-obukhanych-phd-in-immunology/ – is it any wonder that the whole subject is fraught with fear and propaganda, hyperbole and bullying?

  • Naomi Brooks

    some many moons ago I used to be a paediatrician and I have seen huge improvements since immunisations like pneumococcal and HIB were introduced. We used to have multiple admissions each week with pneumonia and meningitis, I doubt the average young doctor in ED ever does lumbar punctures any more. these diseases have almost disappeared! Back then the overall immunisation rates were low mostly due to apathy and when they linked extra welfare payments to children completing the full immunisation schedule we saw a big rise in immunisation rates. The crazy mad anti-vaxxers no-one wasted their breath on because they were such a small minority, but unfortunately the internet has brought so many more people a bunch of misinformation to fuel their conspiracy theories. I have one brother who hasn’t vaccinated his kids, and another brother who actually ended up on National TV and helped influence getting pneumococcal put on the benefit after his oldest got meningitis aged 14 months.(she’s fine now thank goodness). I’m not sure that this measure will make much difference to vaccination rates, because in my experience most people with low incomes don’t have a stance on vaccination either way, but are generally in favour of it. ( I currently work in Aboriginal Health and we have excellent vaccination rates BTW). I read an awesome article from a paediatrician a while back, and I totally agree with his sentiment: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/30/the-real-reason-pediatricians-want-you-to-vaccinate-your-kids.html