I’ve been in a combination of jet-lag/virus induced haze for the last week and a half which has left me lethargic and finding it difficult to concentrate.
But this morning I had reason to leap out of bed at the ungodly hour of 05:30 to hit the computer and report on some very good news.
Our government has gone done something good and given that this doesn’t happen very often, I reckon it’s worthy of a pre-dawn blog post.
The news, which was brought to my attention by Fuzztwin on Twitter, reports on changes to the current childhood immunisation schedule to include three new vaccines and increase the incentives for parents who complete the schedule, effective 2013.
Chickenpox or varicella which as not previously been covered by the schedule (and hence was an out-of-pocket expense for parents wanting to vaccinate against chickenpox) will now be included.
Also new is vaccinations for meningococcal C and pneumococcal.
The new schedule brings the number of infectious diseases covered by the schedule to twelve.
Importantly, reports indicate that the number of shots kids will be required to get will actually be reduced however, since there will be new combination vaccines used.
According to a report in The Herald Sun a new combination vaccine will cover measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox in one shot and will be administered at 18 months replacing the previous MMR given at 4 years. The number of visits will increase however, owing to the new scheduled shot at 18 months.
There are also changes to the incentive scheme for parents and this is where it gets interesting (well, for nerds of legislation like me).
Under the current maternity immunisation allowance scheme introduced in 1997, parents receive two one-off payments totalling $258 if they complete the vaccination schedule. This will be scrapped under the new system and replaced with three payments of $726 each, paid at one, three and five years. If kids are not fully vaccinated, then the $2100 will be withheld. (This is part of the current family tax benefit part A end-of-year supplement so it’s not an entirely new benefit).
Health Minister Nicola Roxon said: “We know that immunisation is fundamental to a child’s lifelong health and that’s why we want to make sure that children are immunised at the right time.
“We want all Australian kids to grow up healthy, and immunisation is essential to that.”
What is not mentioned in any of the news stories is whether this effects the current options for conscientious objectors. Under the current system, you can still get the maternity immunisation allowance even if you don’t vaccinate, if you identify as a conscientious objector (CO). Excerpt from the Centrelink website which administers the payment:
a recognised immunisation provider (e.g. your doctor) signs a letter or form saying that:
• they have told you about the benefits and risks of immunising your child and you have a conscientious objection to immunising your child (your provider should complete a Health Insurance Commission Immu-12 form),
• immunising your child with a particular vaccine is medically contraindicated (your provider should use the Health Insurance Commission Immu-11 form),
• the child has a natural immunity to the disease, or
• the vaccine is not available,
• you or your partner are a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist and you have a letter from an official of the Church advising that you are a practising member of the Church.
This is certainly going to be the bit the anti-vaxers are interested in. The news stories appeared overnight (at least one was published at 12:00) so we have yet to see a reaction from Meryl and her buddies. But you can expect some major *head asplosions* on this one, guaranteed. Particularly since Meryl had previously claimed she has some sort of influence when it comes to vaccination policy. It seems she might have missed this one.
This is not the only piece of good news in this story either. Reports also detail a new pertussis awareness campaign in the form of mail-outs to warn parents about the dangers of the current epidemic and advise on ways to protect their kids.
This is a direct response to campaigning by the McCaffery family who lost their baby Dana in 2009 at 4 weeks of age in the grips of a pertussis epidemic. The family was never warned about the risks of pertussis or that they needed, as parents and carers, to get boosters, since the effectiveness of the vaccines wanes over time.
From the Age:
Ms Roxon said the aim of the whooping cough campaign was to raise awareness, particularly among parents planning pregnancies and others to be aware of the dangers to infants and the need to have vaccinations at two months, four months and six months after birth.
But the vaccinations do not provide lifelong protection from whooping cough and children should have booster shots at age four and then during teenage years, Ms Roxon said.
”Whooping cough is not just a childhood disease, as adolescents and adults can account for half the cases in the community.”
Overall, this is a step in the right direction by the Australian Government and I applaud Nicola Roxon for (finally) taking action. The introduction of the chickenpox vaccine is also a welcome addition to the schedule, since it costs as much to get as the current maternity immunisation allowance (~$200) making the incentive seem moot.
It’s still early in Australia, and since this story only broke overnight, I wait with interest for the response of the anti-vaxers. I’ve also searched, but to no avail, for a government media release, as I’m keen to find out if any changes have been made to the CO conditions.
One suspects they will remain in place, at least in some form, since they are necessary for kids with genuine medical reasons for not vaccinating, but given that the maternity immunisation allowance scheme is to be scrapped, it appears they will at least need to be migrated, if not re-drafted.
I await with interest.
Update: the government statement about changes can be found here