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Prompts, not punishment, the key to boosting immunisation

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Parents who fail to ensure their children are fully vaccinated should be prompted rather than punished, the AMA has said.

As the Federal Government contemplates withholding Family Tax Benefit Part A payments from parents who refuse immunisation on non-medical grounds, the AMA has called for the nationwide adoption of rules requiring parents to submit immunisation records when enrolling their children in school and childcare.

A communique issued following a meeting of the nation’s Health Ministers earlier this month noted that “the Commonwealth will consider issues associated with incentives to reduce vaccine refusal”, and highlighted the fact that parents who had a conscientious objection to vaccination received the same benefits as those who had their children immunised.

The statement followed the release of National Health Performance Authority figures showing that more than 75,000 children five years and younger were not fully immunised in 2012-13, including around 15,000 whose parents had lodged a conscientious objection to vaccination.

But AMA Council of General Practice Chair Dr Brian Morton said that, rather than punishing parents, it was important to devise ways to encourage them to get their children protected.

“The AMA does not believe that denying parents financial assistance is the right approach to improving childhood immunisation rates,” Dr Morton said in his GP column Punishing families not the way to boost vaccination rates in Australian Medicine today. “A more appropriate response is to identify and refer children who are behind in their immunisation for a program of catch-up vaccinations.”

Dr Morton said that, while he understood the anger and frustration caused by conscientious objectors who spread myths and misinformation regarding the safety of vaccines, “punishing them will not alleviate the problem of the 60,000 or so children whose parents are not conscientious objectors, but who are left unprotected from very preventable diseases”.

He said it would be more effective if the NSW Government’s initiative to require proof of vaccination at enrolment was adopted nationwide.

“Measures such as this enable the identification of children who are not fully immunised, and provide the opportunity to refer them on for a program of catch-up vaccinations,” Dr Morton said.

“Talking to parents about immunisation has often been done opportunistically by GPs. Putting in place a defined checkpoint, such as the compulsory provision of immunisation documentation at school entry, will help ensure these conversations happen, and that parents make an informed choice.”

The Federal Government is also, according to the Courier Mail, working on a system that would automatically send a reminder to parents who let their children fall behind on their vaccination schedule.

Adrian Rollins

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