The Australian government soon will stop welfare payments to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, a decision that comes just months after hundreds of people in the United States were affected by the largest U.S. measles outbreak in decades.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has decided to deny government benefits to Australian parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. In the past, families that haven't immunized their kids based on philosophical or religious objection to vaccinations have been able to receive child care money, according to BBC News. But Abbott plans to tighten the rules beginning on Jan. 1, 2016.
The "conscientious objection" will be removed as an exemption for child care payments and the country's end-of-year supplements. Existing exemptions on religious and medical grounds will continue to be allowed, but only if an individual is affiliated with a group that has a formally registered objection approved by the government.
"The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments," Abbott wrote in a statement released Sunday.
Australia currently checks the vaccination status of children who are 1, 2, and 5 years old, according to the news release. It is estimated that more than 39,000 Australian children younger than the age of 7 aren't vaccinated.
The debate about vaccines gained new attention in the United States this past December when at least 40 people who visited or worked at Disneyland in California contracted measles, sparking the largest outbreak of the disease in 15 years. Since then, 159 people from at least 18 states and Washington, D.C., were reported to have measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The disease is preventable through routine vaccinations, but the general population needs a certain high percentage of people to be immunized in order to protect those who can't receive the vaccination due to age, health, or auto-immune reasons, for instance. Recent anti-vaccination trends, however, have dropped the overall percentage of healthy protected individuals, severely threatening what is known as "herd immunity" and allowing for outbreaks such as the one seen at Disneyland.
That outbreak, which occurred 15 years after it was determined that vaccinations had eradicated commonly contracted measles, quickly developed into both a public health and political crisis in the United States, as some conservatives struggled to reconcile their personal views with the ongoing emergency. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — an ophthalmologist who last week declared his intent to run for president in the 2016 election — said he had heard of cases where vaccines had caused “profound mental problems.” Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the first 2016 Democratic presidential contender, entered the vaccination conversation in February when she tweeted: "The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let's protect all our kids."
Earlier this month, lawmakers in California approved a bill that would prevent most parents from opting out of vaccinating children who are enrolled in school. The measure, which still needs to pass through several additional hearings before a potential vote on the state Senate floor, would eliminate the "personal beliefs" exemption that currently allows parents in California not to vaccinate their children.