The federal government’s ‘no jab, no pay’ law has sparked a rush on vaccines as parents fear missing out on welfare benefits.
Under the vaccination policy, which came into effect on January 1, parents will lose the Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement and childcare subsidies if their child is not up to date with their immunisations.
Immunisation rates low in parts of Australia
Immunisation rates are so low in some parts of the country that the potential spread of disease will not be prevented according to the latest national figures. (Vision courtesy ABCNews24)
State and territory health departments report they are being inundated with calls from GPs and health nurses about how to implement catch-up schedules, particularly for children who have never been vaccinated, as parents flock to immunisation providers.
Meanwhile, health departments are sending out increased vaccine supplies, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Sussan Ley confirmed.
Statistical data measuring the effect of the ‘no jab, no pay’ policy on immunisation coverage won’t be available until April.
“While it is too early to provide meaningful figures, there appears to have been strong interest in the supply of vaccines for children under five years of age,” said NSW Health director of communicable diseases Dr Vicky Sheppeard.
Dr Sheppeard said for example there had been an increase in the supply of vaccines given at two, four and six months old to protect against pneumococcal disease from an average of 24,000 doses a month in the preceding months to 29,000 doses in January.
Anticipating an increase in immunisations, the federal government made specific vaccines available to catch up older children who hadn’t been immunised at the recommended ages. “There has also been strong interest in these vaccines,” Dr Sheppeard said.
The director of public health for the NSW North Coast, Paul Corben, said a lot of parents were seeking immunisation advice and vaccines since the ‘no jab, no pay’ policy had become law. “Across the state we’re all fielding a lot of inquiries,” he said.
Mr Corben said he was not sure the policy would sway hard-line anti-vaccination parents.
“Who it does sway are the people who are ambivalent or perhaps a bit complacent. It’s an added incentive [to get their children immunised],” he said.
Immunisation providers in known anti-vaccination hot spots such as the North Coast are reporting at least five families a week are coming in to individual practices to bring their children up to date.
“Now the ‘no jab, no play’ law has come into effect, local immunisation providers are getting a massive increase in parents bringing their kids in to catch up on the schedule,” said Heidi Robertson from the Northern Rivers Vaccination Supporters group.
Australia’s national immunisation target is for 95 per cent of children to be immunised, but immunisation data released this week revealed that some pockets of the country still have shockingly low vaccination rates. Mullumbimby has one of the lowest rates of in Australia, with less than half of children under five fully vaccinated.
“That doesn’t reflect what is happening right now,” Ms Robertson said. “I have a feeling in a year or two we’ll see an increase in vaccination levels here.”