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Anti-vax dodge dismissed by Commonwealth

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The Federal Government has confirmed that a form being circulated by anti-vaccination campaigners attempting to circumvent new ‘No Jab, No Pay’ laws has no legal standing, backing AMA advice that doctors are under no obligation to sign it.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has written to AMA President Brian Owler confirming that medical practitioners were under no obligation to sign the form, which asks doctors to acknowledge the ‘involuntary consent’ of a parent to the vaccination of their children, and which is deemed to be ineffective in any case.

“I am able to advise you that under the No Jab, No Pay Act, immunisation providers are not obligated to sign such declarations,” Mr Porter wrote. “This statutory declaration is not relevant evidence for the purposes of family assistance payments, [so that] even if such a form were signed by a doctor…it would not in any circumstances make the relevant parent eligible for payments that would otherwise be suspended.”

The form has been circulated by anti-vaccination campaigners following Federal Government welfare changes aimed at denying certain welfare payments to parents who refuse to vaccinate their child.

Under the No Jab, No Pay laws, from 1 January this year parents of children whose vaccination is not up-to-date are no longer eligible for the Family Tax Benefit Part A end-of-year supplement, or for Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate payments. The only exemption will be for children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

The new laws were introduced amid mounting concern that vaccination rates in some areas were slipping to dangerously low levels, increasing the risk of a sustained outbreak of potentially deadly diseases such as measles.

The Australian Childhood Immunisation Register shows there has been a sharp increase in the proportion of parents registering a conscientious objection to the vaccination of their child, from just 0.23 per cent in late 1999 to 1.77 per cent by the end of 2014.

In all, around a fifth of all young children who are not fully immunised are that way because of the conscientious objection of their parents.

The form being circulated by anti-vaccination groups, headed “Acknowledgement of involuntary consent to vaccination”, is intended to circumvent the No Jab, No Pay laws and allow conscientious objectors to receive Government benefits without allowing the vaccination of their children.

But Mr Porter said the aim of the new laws was to boost immunisation rates “by providing a level of encouragement and incentive for families to more thoroughly inform themselves about the importance of immunising their children”.

The Minster said the Government recognised the right of parents to decide not to vaccinate their children, but the new laws meant there would be consequences.

“An individual is not prohibited in any way from maintaining their vaccination objection; it is simply the case they will not receive some of their family assistance,” he said. “This is a relatively small financial cost, particularly when compared to the cost that the spread of crippling, debilitating and deadly diseases has on our health system and community.”

“It is the Government’s view that when an individual decides not to vaccinate their child, they are putting their child and the community at risk of infectious diseases.”

Last month, the AMA’s senior legal adviser John Alati advised that, where there was no medical reason for vaccination exemption, the doctor’s job was to outline the relevant facts about immunisation and to provide vaccination where consent was given. Where it was withheld, “the doctor should not perform the procedure as it might constitute trespass to the person”.

His advice was backed by Mr Porter, who said that “the appropriate path for a doctor or medical profession who may be requested to sign [the form being circulated by anti-vaccination campaigners] is simply to vaccinate where there is consent, and decline where consent is absent”.

Adrian Rollins

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