The Australian prime minister has said parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will have some benefits cut. The move comes amid a resurgent vaccination debate in several parts of the world.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Sunday that Australians who refuse to vaccinate their children will in future be denied some government benefits such as child care subsidies and family tax benefits.
"It's essentially a 'no jab, no pay' policy from this government," Abbott told reporters in the eastern city of Sydney.
"It's a very important public health announcement. It's a very important measure to keep our children and our families as safe as possible," he said.
"The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments," he said, adding that the new policy would go into force on January 1, 2016.
The announcement comes amid a nationwide debate over immunizing children. Many vaccination objectors say they fear that a triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is behind an increase in cases of childhood autism - a theory posited in a since-retracted article in the Lancet medical journal in 1998 that has been repeatedly disproven by a number of studies.
Currently in Australia, the some 3 percent of benefit recipients who do not have their children immunized on the basis of "conscientious objections" still have access to benefits such as child care rebates.
Such parents stand to lose a reported 15,000 Australian dollars (10,880 euros; $11,500) annually per child under the new policy, which is also supported by the Labor opposition in Australia, making parliamentary approval a formality.
Exemptions will be permitted only on strict medical or religious grounds, with parents who cite religion having to prove affiliation with a religious group whose objection to vaccination has received government approval.
Although Australia has vaccination rates of more than 90 percent for children aged one to five, the government says more than 39,000 children under seven have not been immunized - an increase of more than 24,000 children over the past decade.
The vaccination debate in and outside of Australia has been fueled by recent outbreaks of preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough in several parts of the world.
Non-vaccinated people who contract such diseases can pose a danger to babies who have not yet been immunized or those with auto-immune conditions, who are otherwise protected by so-called "herd immunity."
tj/jr (AFP, dpa)