Media Circus: No Vaccination No Benefits edition

The Australian government has announced that it intends to stop welfare payments to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

The “no jab, no pay” policy may cost parents more than A$11,000 a year per child in lost benefit payments.

Families with children not immunised have been able to receive childcare cash if they have a philosophical or religious objection to vaccines.

PM Tony Abbott said that the rules would soon be substantially tightened.

He said that there would only be a small number of religious and medical exceptions to the new rules – supported by the Labor opposition and due to come into effect in early 2016.

The prime minister refused to say in detail how much money the initiative would save. (BBC News)

I have some reservations about this policy. I support efforts to improve the vaccination rate in principle, but I wonder what other programs the government might decide to coerce people into via the threat of withholding welfare benefits.

What’s piqued your media interests lately?

As usual for media circus threads, please share your bouquets and brickbats for particular items in the mass media, or highlight cogent analysis elsewhere, on any current sociopolitical issue (the theme of each edition is merely for discussion-starter purposes – all current news items are on topic!).

Categories: culture wars, ethics & philosophy, media, medicine, parties and factions

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19 replies

  1. It’s US Presidential Election season again. I can tell because Twitter has damn well exploded over Hilary Clinton stepping forth as a/the Democratic party candidate. Which means we’re about due to start hearing all the fun of the fair as the Republicans and the Democrats start holding primaries (why do we have to hear so much about another country’s crazy pre-selection process?) and all other media coverage coming out of the USA will come to a shrieking halt until approximately the second week in November 2016 (yes, I know that’s November next year; these campaigns grind on forever).

    Praise be to whichever electoral deity who convinced our pollies that a six week maximum campaign period was a Good Thing, because every three to four years, we get reminded of what the other option might be.

    • Presidential campaigning is its own monstrous entity, definitely. The Congresscritters and Senators don’t get to spend quite so much campaigning as those who are aiming at the White House, because they do have to spend at least some time on the Hill. It’s just an astonishing expenditure of time and effort, let alone the actual dosh that corrupts the whole process so thoroughly.

  2. This article in the Guardian’s Comment Is Free section raises some of the points that concern me:

    The long history in Australia of the state interfering in the child-rearing of minority cultures is not a happy one. Nor is the more recent trend of using the welfare system to compel behaviour. These facts should give us pause and lead us to ask why Australians so often reach for and defer to state authority.

    Regardless of your personal opinion of anti-vaxxers, the best evidence we have says they are marginal both politically and numerically. Do we really want to applaud the withdrawal of state assistance from all parents who don’t vaccinate (including people who forget to get their kids jabbed, or can’t for whatever reason) on account of this group? What else are we prepared to try to compel people to do to their children? Is this the only way we can resolve deep value conflicts?

    These questions are all the more pressing because there’s not a lot of evidence that it will work to get more kids vaccinated, at least according to social scientists who are experts in this area.

    • They are marginal politically and numerically, yes, but they tend to cluster and the diseases get a good foot hold and start to infect the immunised community. That’s the issue. Of course this policy doesn’t address the fact that most people who don’t immunise probably earn too much to be affected by this policy.

  3. There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there that isn’t being tackled by current public health policies. The biggest problem with whooping cough isn’t vaccine refusers, it’s the enormous adult reservoir, about which virtually nothing is being done. (The occasional attempt at catch-up with pregnant women/prospective parents, leaving all the other adults in the child’s life (and at the supermarket, etc) still vulnerable.) I believe that an aggressive campaign to get all adults up to date with whooping cough boosters could achieve a lot in control of the disease.

  4. There’s nothing morally wrong with the state coercing vaccination. That’s pretty much what it’s there for: providing the force when necessary to stop its citizens from harming each other.

    (Whether that’s epidemiologically the best way to get the highest rate of vaccination is another question. Briefly: no, not usually. Public health information campaigns and making vaccination the cheapest easiest alternative work much better.)

    But — and this is a huge but — what’s super-obnoxious about Abbott’s hamhanded display of coercion is that how poor you are has nothing to do with how infectious you are! The coercion must apply to everybody, or to nobody.

    What’s more, as you’ve mentioned, it’s not the poor who are the most unvaccinated. At least here in the US, it’s the top quintile financially who also see themselves as special snowflakes that should be unsullied by vaccines. Cutting welfare benefits wouldn’t teach them a thing.

  5. I have discovered I am friends with an anti-vaxxer on Facebook. That thread is all about how this will hurt poor people. But if other non vax friends of hers know her through her work, as I do, I doubt very much that they are ‘poor’ in the real sense of the word.

  6. I’m against this, hands down, for many of the reasons already given, AND ALSO: this policy will harm children.

    Children who are already at risk of harm because of the lack of jabs.

    In other words, the policy itself will harm a significant proportion of the people supposedly to be protected by a policy of this kind.

    Did someone actually think this through?

    • Probably not. The interesting thing is that people seem to assume that it is poor people who don’t get their kids vaccinated. But I’m not sure that holds up. From what I have seen it is alternate lifestylers (aka hippies) and wealthy eastern suburbs (in Sydney) people who seem to be the main offenders. I wonder if this policy will change when the people the Libs usually expect to vote for them start kicking up a fuss.

      • Mindy, but that’s a different reason it’s bad policy (part of my I agree with reasons already expressed, possibly poorly expressed). So yes, people who are not vaccinating but not receiving payments won’t be affected – bad policy because it does not actually target (a large proportion of) the people it supposedly targets – but on the assumption the policy DOES actually pick up some people (ie on the assumption there are some people on welfare who don’t vaccinate), then my point stands.

        IOW my point is NOT that all unvaccinated children will be adversely affected by the policy, but that the people hit the hardest by the policy WILL BE (part of the group of) unvaccinated children.

  7. My winner for today’s “No! Really?” prize:

    I mean, I’m sure it’s astounding to somebody that in the aftermath of a mining boom going bust, people who don’t have jobs aren’t buying luxury cars or new houses (particularly given a median house price in Perth of about $500k) . To that person, I’d like to say welcome to the outside world, it must have been very dark under that rock all these years. I’m so pleased to see you got a job working for the ABC…

  8. My understanding of the proposal is that it’s not welfare in general that would be denied to people who do not vaccinate due to conscientious objection, it’s a number of specific benefits: Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement (which is up to around $730 per child per year) and the two childcare payments. The families most hurt by the policy would be lower income users of institutional childcare, rather than low income people in general.

    To be clear: I don’t think this is actually a counter to the positions people put here, just that I think it’s worth noting the details on this one.

  9. Well that changes the whole ballgame then Mary. My apologies for not being better informed. Well off families won’t be bothered by the first two, but not getting the 50% Child Care Rebate will add up pretty quick. Especially for families who aren’t so much objectors as couldn’t be bothered to keep up with the schedule.

  10. I should also note that for genuine vax sceptics who do qualify for all those payments the impact will be significant in many ways and will as Jo pointed out have a severe impact on the kids it is meant to help.

  11. This policy isn’t likely to work. For one, most of those who aren’t vaxxed are adults, and of the children, most are those whose parents just haven’t had them done, not those who have philosophical, religious or other concerns (the “anti-vaxxers”).

    The anti-vaxxers won’t be convinced by the government basically telling them they have to vax their kids, and will likely feel that a government compelling them to do it only confirms their suspicions about vaxxing in the first place.

    Those who can afford to will opt out of payments, those who can’t afford to will only increase their distrust of governments and authority. It’s clearly unfair to only target the poorer in society, and only serves to increase the view held by some in society that it’s only the unvaxxed that ever spread disease, filthy, poor, ignorant fools.

    It would be better to instead target those who have fallen behind on their vax schedules, let them know that they are not up to date, then make it free and convenient for them to get caught up.

    I also think it’s unreasonable for the government to compel parents to vax without also taking on the responsibility of the possibility of an adverse reaction. I know that adverse reactions are rare, but can be extremely serious. If an adverse reaction occurs, there needs to be compensation and the appropriate care provided, no arguments for that individual.

    I’m also thoroughly concerned by the tone appearing in many comments on any article or opinion piece concerning this topic. Themes ranged from anti-vaxxers ought to have their children taken away if they won’t vax, should be charged with manslaughter if anyone else dies due to their child passing on a disease, that anti-vaxxers are potential walking time-bombs. Makes me wonder what other choices Australian society might deem so unsuitable that kids should be taken away or charged with manslaughter?

  12. Definitely. Do private schools do a free vax program for high school students too? Mr 12 will get all his, including chicken pox which he hasn’t had before, for free this year. All I had to do was sign the forms. If they were able to offer this through clinics at preschools or kindergartens it might make a difference.

  13. On a different but related point:

    **trigger warning** The anti-vaxxers are comparing “forced vaccination” to rape. Complete with rather confronting picture.

    • Had some words with someone on FB this morning who thought this ad was effective because shocking. I politely pointed out that rape had never stopped anyone getting diptheria etc. Well I was polite until the FFS at the end of the comment.

      Just shows how low some anti-vaxxers (#not all anti-vaxxers) will stoop.

    • I was wondering whether I should post this.

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