Vaccine refusers to miss out on tax benefits under Australian plan

Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids create a dilemma for politicians. Falling immunization rates have severe public health consequences, but forcing vaccinations on people is politically troublesome. With an election looming, Australian politicians are trying to find a balance.

Last year, Australia tried to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated by making a full immunization record a requirement for receiving a tax supplement. However, parents were able to refuse the vaccines while still claiming benefits of up to AU$2,000 ($1,835) by registering as "conscientious objectors." With immunization rates falling below 50% in some parts of the country, reports that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is trying to close the loophole.

"Most parents do the right thing and get their kids immunized. This change won't make a difference to them. But Labor believes we can do even more to encourage all parents to do the right thing, through education and providing a stronger financial incentive," Rudd said. Parents will still be able to object on medical and religious grounds. In some U.S. states--notably New York--the number of parents objecting on religious grounds has jumped over the past decade. Experts believe the rise stems from parents seeking religious exemptions for their personal antivaccine beliefs.

Australia could face similar problems if Rudd is elected and tightens the law. The initiative may also fail to incentivize the parents most likely to resist vaccinations. Wealthy areas like Sydney's eastern suburbs are among the regions where low vaccination rates are heightening the risk of communicable disease outbreaks. For these affluent people, the loss of a tax break--which, because it is means-tested, will be worth less than $1,800 to them--may be a price worth paying to avoid having to vaccinate their kids. The New South Wales state government--which covers Sydney--has also tried to encourage parents to vaccinate by making a full immunization record or a conscientious objection form a requirement for kids entering childcare.

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