Religious vaccine loophole shut

Christian Scientists will no longer be able to claim a religious exemption to avoid vaccinating their children, the Federal Government announced on Sunday.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison had talks with the Church of Christ, Scientist and has removed the group’s approved exemption that has been in place since 1998.

On Sunday the Federal Government unveiled a $26 million package aimed at boosting vaccination rates among children as part of next month’s budget.

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The money will be spent on incentive payments for doctors who vaccinate overdue children, a national vaccination register and a communication campaign.

Sussan Ley said the new package would include educating parents.

Sussan Ley said the new package would include educating parents. Photo: AAP

The Federal Government last week had already moved to deny childcare and family tax benefits to parents who claimed a conscientious objection to vaccination.

Which means the only remaining vaccination exemption will be based on medical grounds.

Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said 166,000 children were recorded as being more than two months overdue for their vaccinations last year. This figure is in addition to Australia’s 39,000 conscientious objectors.

Ms Ley said the campaign would focus on increasing awareness but also addressing parents’ concerns.

“The communication campaign will be directed at material for doctors and there may be a portion of advertising,” Ms Ley said.

“What I will be focused on is the best way we can get the message across to parents about the effectiveness and importance of the national immunisation program.

“I believe most parents have genuine concerns about those who deliberately choose not to vaccinate their children and put the wider community at risk.

“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.”

Doctors bonus ‘doubled’

Ms Ley also announced that a $6 bonus for doctors prompting parents to catch up on children’s immunisations will be doubled to $12 in the May budget.

It’s designed to encourage GPs to contact families to come in for their jabs.

Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler praised the move.

The bonus would help doctors to allocate staff to do the time-consuming follow-up work to ensure parents kept up to date with the vaccination schedule,” he said.

Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick has raised concerns about vaccination supply coping with extra demand as a result of the national campaign to increase immunisation rates.

Dr Owler is also worried about supply but believes distributors will adjust their production in due course.

Ms Ley said the more people who were vaccinated meant less chance illness will spread throughout the rest of the community.

“This is particularly true for those Australians who are ill, vulnerable, pregnant or elderly,” she said.

“The vaccine was changed at the last minute to make sure that this additional strain was included, and that means that Australians will be protected against almost all of the flu strains they will face this winter.

“The message is simple – get your flu shot before the flu gets you this winter.”

Meanwhile, a national immunisation register is reportedly being proposed to keep track of vaccines given through school-based programs.

with AAP/ABC

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