Doctors will be given incentive payments so that parents stick to their children’s vaccination schedule, and the one religious exemption to vaccinations will end, as part of a push by the federal government to boost the immunisation rate.
Social services minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced that the only religious group currently able to claim religious exemptions for vaccinations, Christian Scientists, will no longer be able to do so.
Morrison said the exemption, in place since 1998, “is no longer current or necessary and will therefore be removed”.
“Having resolved this outstanding matter, the government will not be receiving nor authorising any further vaccination exemption applications from religious organisations,” he said.
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Families will still be able to claim exemptions to vaccinations on medical grounds. “This will remain the sole ground for exemption under the Coalition government,” Morrison said.
Calls to representatives of Christian Science were not returned.
The tightening of the rules around exemptions is part of the government’s $26m package on boosting immunisation rates, which was due to be announced in detail on Sunday.
The package will include a public awareness campaign to sell the benefits of vaccinations to parents, the incentive payments for medical providers, and improved public vaccination records.
News Ltd reports that the current $6 incentive payment offered to medical professionals, which are designed to encourage GPs to contact families to remind them that their children are due for jabs, will be doubled to $12.
On Monday, the government announced that it would tighten up welfare eligibility for parents who fail to immunise their children. Families could lose out on the childcare benefit and rebate, and the Family Tax Benefit part A supplement.
“I believe most parents have genuine concerns about those who deliberately choose not to vaccinate their children and put the wider community at risk,” the health minister, Sussan Ley, said.
“However, it’s important parents also understand complacency presents as a much of a threat to immunisation rates and the safety of our children as conscientious objections do.”
A national immunisation register is reportedly also being proposed to keep track of vaccines given through school-based programs.
Labor has thrown its support behind the changes. “In many cases missed vaccinations are due to oversight rather than a specific objection,” a joint statement from opposition leader Bill Shorten, opposition families spokeswoman Jenny Macklin and opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said.
“The establishment of a national immunisation register of school-based vaccinations will assist all parents to do the right thing by their children.”
“Labor also supports moves to explore a national immunisation register to enable adults to keep their vaccinations up to date.”
The Queensland health minister, Cameron Dick, welcomed Sunday’s announcements but told the ABC he was concerned that the issue of vaccine shortages, raised at the council of Australian governments meeting on Friday, had not been mentioned.
“If we are going to incentivise the system now, going to be giving doctors money to provide more immunisations, more vaccinations, then I want to be assured the vaccinations are there,” Dick told ABC News 24.
“In one sense, a good announcement but disappointing no consultation with the states and territories but let’s hope that can be sorted out, we can secure supply including domestic manufacture if need be to ensure all Australians are vaccinated.”
Ley estimates that there are currently 39,000 conscientious objectors, and at least 166,000 children who are two months or more overdue for their immunisations.