Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday that the country is to adopt a "no jab, no pay" policy to deny some government benefits to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
The policy change comes amid a debate over immunization for children, with some parents believing — despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary — vaccines against deadly diseases are dangerous.
The anti-vaccination movement has coincided with the resurgence of measles, a preventable disease, in some European countries as well as in U.S. states such as Colorado and California.
"It's essentially a 'no jab, no pay' policy from this government," Abbott told reporters in 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."
Under current Australian laws, parents who have conscientious objections about immunization can claim child care and welfare payments.
If the measures are passed, those parents would be denied the payments — which include child care rebates, benefits and family tax benefit supplements — reportedly missing out on up to $11,500 per child annually.
Parents unwilling to vaccinate the children on medical or religious grounds would still be allowed to tap into the benefits, although under tighter eligibility requirements.
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said there were no mainstream religions that had registered vaccination objections with the government.
The new measures, supported by the Labor opposition, have to be passed by Parliament and would come into force at the start of 2016.
Australia has vaccination rates of over 90 percent for children ages 1 to 5 years.
But the government said more than 39,000 children under 7 were not vaccinated because of parental objections. That’s an increase of more than 24,000 children in the past decade.
Abbott said his government was "extremely concerned" about the risks such actions posed to the rest of the population.
"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," Abbott said in a joint statement with Morrison.
Many people who do not vaccinate their children say they fear that a triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is responsible for increasing cases of autism — a theory repeatedly disproved by various studies.
The anti-vaxxer movement gained traction in 1998 with the publication of a now debunked and retracted paper published in The Lancet medical journal that linked the vaccine to autism.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse