When I wrote about Ausrtralia’s new antivax policies last week, I was impressed by its boldness and wished other countries would follow its lead. Since that article, the Aussie vaccination crackdown has gone a step further: they’re eliminating religious exemptions.
The original policy change cracked down on “conscientious objector” antivaxxers, but at the time it was reported that religious exemptions would remain in place and would be “tightened” so that religious objections could only be gained if the objector is “affiliated with a religious group whose governing body has a formally registered objection approved by the federal government.” This was already going to make getting religious objections difficult as, it turns out, there was only one such religious group with Australian approval: the Christian Scientists.
As of Saturday, even the Christian Scientists are off the government’s very short list, and social services minister Scott Morrison announced that “the government will not be receiving nor authorising any further vaccination exemption applications from religious organisations.” The news doesn’t report if Morrison dropped the mike after saying that, but if he had, he would have been completely justified.
It makes me wonder what changed between the original report, which promised “tightening” and a list of objecting organizations, to the stronger “no list, no objectors” move. Perhaps the government was simply pleased with how well the Australian public and the international community responded to their initial move? It’s possible. Or perhaps this was the plan all along, and they simply chose to roll it out piecemeal.
One thing’s for sure: Australia is certainly putting their antivaxxers into a difficult position. While they have stopped short of requiring childhood vaccinations, they’re forcing many Australians to make some difficult choices, as well as stripping some legitimacy from the decision to not vaccinate. Meanwhile groups like the AVN are up in arms, characterizing the move as ” [punishing] law-abiding Australians trying to make informed choices for the protection of their children” and calling on their members to write letters to the government. They seem largely toothless, however, in the wake of these governmental changes.
[The AVN article linked above, by the way, makes the super hilarious assertion that antivax parents often “[spend] many hours (commonly in the hundreds or thousands of hours) researching this issue for themselves.” I suspect a smidgen of exaggeration there.]
Once again, I have to say: well done, Australia! And: I hope that other governments learn from this. When you have a public health crisis, you need to do something about it. Australia is acting very boldly for the health of their citizens. When will the rest of the world’s governments do the same?