‘No Jab, No Play’: An update on Australia’s tough vaccination laws

While the debate about vaccination still rages around the country, the verdict on the Federal Government’s tough vaccination laws is in.

Vaccination is a controversial topic in Australia and every parent or childcare worker has an opinion on whether it’s necessary, or not. But if you’ll remember, the Federal Government introduced a ‘no jab, no play’ policy in 2015, which withholds three state payments – Child Care Benefit, the Child Care Rebate (in 2018, it was expanded to include the Family Tax Benefit Part A end of year supplement) – for parents of children under 20 years of age who are not fully immunised or on a recognised catch-up schedule. The law also imposes fines on childcare centres that admit unvaccinated children.

Now, a few years on, the view is clear: Like them or not, these strict vaccination laws are working.

In fact, there was an immediate increase in immunization. From December 2015 to March 2017, coinciding with the policy’s introduction, the immunization rate for 1-year-olds increased around one percentage point, to 93.6 percent. Of those 134,372 children still not up to date with vaccinations —parents had their government benefits reduced.

Now, taking its cue from federal legislation, the state of South Australia is considering taking vaccination regulations in child care one step further, debating legislation that completely bans the enrolment of unvaccinated children in preschool and child care centres.

The South Australian proposal would set fines of up to $30,000 Australian dollars on child care facilities which admit an unvaccinated child. Notably, conscientious objection would no longer be seen as a valid excuse.

There are also pushes for similar laws to be enacted in New South Wales and Victoria.  

In New South Wales, vaccination coverage is inching closer to the national target of 95 per cent, but the numbers also show that there are still pockets where vaccination rates are woefully low – some of Sydney’s wealthier suburbs as well as the city centre, and the Northern New South Wales Coast, around Mullumbimby and Byron Bay which has long been considered the anti-vax capital. These areas are still resistant to comply.

And of course, there are still many vocal opponents to all forms of this particular legislation, who believe that the laws are discriminative and have taken away their individual choice of parents, to make their own decisions based on what they believe is best for their children.

The impact of infectious diseases in child care

More than one-third of Australian children under the age of five regularly attend some form of licensed child care. In the case of vaccine preventable diseases, the risk of infection in child care can be significantly reduced if children are age-appropriately immunised prior to entry, and continue to receive recommended vaccines at the appropriate ages.

Small children are susceptible to illness because their immune systems are not fully developed and in many cases, germs can be good for them, particularly at this age, helping them to develop robust constitutions, but in some circumstances, they can be deadly.

And because small children have their own poor hygiene practices and generally like to be in close contact with each other (and parents and staff) it makes sense to do all we can to stop the spread of nasty viruses and other illnesses before they begin, because they tend to spread quickly if left unnoticed.

Impact on the bottom line

The greatest impact to child care centres (because in most cases children pay for the day whether they attend or not) is the impact on staffing. If a particularly nasty case of the ‘flu or gastro strikes, affecting the majority of the centre, then the cost of replacement staff and casual hires can be exorbitant. And it’s not something that can always be accurately planned for, or budgeted for.

Health and safety procedures and policies

All child care centres each have their own health and safety policies and procedures, based on industry regulations which are state-based. These outline practices for handwashing, the use of gloves, regular cleaning of surfaces and toys, and food handling as well as isolating children who are sick or enforcing a ‘stay-at-home’ policy when children are unwell to give them time to recover without spreading germs. These go a long way towards mitigating the spread of germs and minimising disruption. 

Many global studies have shown that the most simple and effective practice for both adults and children to avoid the spread of germs, is regular and thorough hand washing. Teaching children about germs is important too.

But for child care centres, the benefits of having a professional cleaning service should never be under-rated. While staff can manage the general day-to-stay spills, or vomits and may even have a well-thought-out routine for cleaning, ensuring that a professional is able to thoroughly clean the child care centre without children present is really the best way to make sure it is done properly. Professional cleaners know all the germ hot spots too. Cleaning light and power switches, computer keyboards and front desk areas, telephones, toilets, sleeping areas, carpet and equipment can ensure not only a pleasant environment for staff and children, but one that is healthy, and as germ-free as possible too. What’s more it means that the child care staff you employ, who are trained to spend time with children, are free to give them their full attention and to stimulate little hearts and minds in all the ways they need.

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