Australia to cut government benefits if parents don't vaccinate children

Australia, which boasts a childhood vaccination rate of more than 90%, has decided to take drastic measures to get at least some of the holdout parents to get their children immunized. Those reliant on government benefits could soon lose them.

As in other nations, even in the developed world, including the United States, Australia has been battling the discredited notion that normal childhood vaccinations cause autism, an assertion that has been widely denounced by medical experts, including the Australian Medical Association.

Neighbor New Zealand's prime minister, John Key, said he would not attempt a similar move because he believed in a parent's right to choose. New Zealand's vaccination rate is 94% and its medical association agreed with Key's decision.

The move came days before the April 15 60th anniversary of the multinational research effort led by Dr. Jonas Salk that announced the world's first polio vaccine.

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that despite the high vaccination rate among children under 5 years of age, in the past 10 years the number of unvaccinated children under 7 years of age more than doubled, from 15,000 to 39,000. As a result, he ordered a "no jab, no pay" policy that would deny child-care benefits, currently as much as U.S. $11,400, to families who refuse to immunize their child.

Although the AMA and other groups applauded the move, other experts suggest the new plan, to become effective next Jan. 1, would do little to fix the problem. The government proposal also includes an exemption for members of the Christian Science religion.

According to World Health Organization estimates as of 2013, the Western Pacific Region, which includes Australia and New Zealand, has as high as a 98% rate for at least one vaccine, the first shot of the diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis combination. That is the highest rate the region has ever had.

Those numbers compare with 91% for the same most-given shot in Southeast Asia, its all-time high, and 87% in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, down from 92% just 5 years ago.

Those regions compare with Europe's current high of 98% and the Western Hemisphere's 96%, down from the 97% recorded for the past decade. The global rate is 91%, down from 92% in 2009, according to the WHO.

- here are stories from Australia ABC Network and International Business Times
- and WHO regional reports from Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Region

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