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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.