While federal and state governments claim their strict mandatory vaccination policies are responsible for lifting childhood vaccination rates, a new study suggests these claims are overstated.
The study, led by The University of Western Australia and the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, found it was unclear whether the ‘No Jab, No Pay’ and ‘No Jab, No Play’ policies had substantially impacted vaccination rates.
The research, published today in the international journal Pediatrics, found that Australian vaccination rates were already rising before mandatory vaccination policies were introduced in 2016 and that rates continued to rise afterwards, with no notable change in the rate of increase.
Lead author Dr Katie Attwell, from UWA’s School of Social Sciences, said there were no significant changes to vaccination coverage rates associated with the implementation of government policies, which the team explored at both state and federal levels.
“The exception was New South Wales, where vaccine coverage rates saw a measurable change following the policy changes once both the State and Federal policies were in the mix,” Dr Attwell said.
Since 2014, Australian state governments have introduced and progressively tightened policies restricting the access of unvaccinated children to early education and childcare.
In 2016, the Federal Government removed financial entitlements and subsidies from non-vaccinating families under its strict ‘No Jab, No Pay’ policy.
“We wanted to analyse the impact of these policies on vaccine coverage rates by state, and also to consider their impact on communities with high numbers of registered refusers,” Dr Attwell said.
“Our study shows that childhood vaccine coverage continued on its positive trajectory without any conclusive evidence of impact of mandatory policies. We also did not find any evidence that the policies caused changes in areas with either high or low numbers of previously registered vaccine refusers.
“However it is possible that coverage rates in Australia would have plateaued in the low 90s, and that the introduction of the mandatory policies did help them to keep rising over the subsequent years to get us to where we are now, in the mid-90s.”
While the study’s publication in a prestigious American journal demonstrates the level of interest in Australia’s mandatory childhood vaccination policies, its authors maintain that there are many factors feeding into the country’s enviable success in attaining high childhood vaccination coverage.
“Overseas policymakers looking to increase coverage rates would be well-advised to examine the contribution of pre-existing and parallel non-mandatory interventions employed by Australian governments to the country’s enhanced coverage.”