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Vaccine myopia: adult vaccination also needs attention

Time to increase our focus on immunising adults

In recent years, there has been increasing attention on parents who actively refuse to vaccinate their children. Successive federal governments have increased the amount of family assistance payments at stake for those who do not vaccinate, and removed most incentives for providers to vaccinate.1 In 2016, the federal government removed vaccine objection as an alternative to vaccination for eligibility to receive family assistance payments. Two states — Victoria and Queensland — introduced legislation to allow the exclusion of unvaccinated children from child care, with no exemption for objectors. The abolition of the conscientious objection process has been championed in sections of the media2 and by some advocacy groups. Responses to people expressing dissenting views have sometimes been vitriolic.3

These measures, however, do not address the vast numbers of undervaccinated adults. We estimate that there are about 4.1 million undervaccinated Australians each year; that is, people who are eligible to receive free vaccine(s) under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) but do not receive them (Box). Of these, the children of parents with ideological objections to vaccination are a small subset; the vast majority are adults.