VOTE: Should Canada penalize parents who don't vaccinate their children?

A child in Ontario receives a vaccination for the H1N1 virus in 2009. Only three provinces in Canada have legislation governing the vaccination of schoolchildren. Photo from Getty Images.

Australia has a law in place to encourage parents to vaccinate their children and it got tougher this month.

Under the island nation’s original “No Jab, No Pay” law, which was enacted in 2016, parents whose children are not fully immunized for their age would miss out on a supplemental year-end family tax benefit.

As of July 1, parents in Australia who don’t vaccinate their children against diseases will lose $28 from each bi-weekly family support payment. It’s a policy Australia’s government says is meant to provide a constant reminder for parents to keep their children’s immunization records up to date.

“Immunization is the safest way to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases,” says a government news release published on July 1 regarding the new rule. “Parents who don’t immunize their children are putting their own kids at risk as well as the children of other people.”

Since it enacted the law in 2016, the Australian government says 246,000 children and their families have brought their immunization records up to date.

In some Australian states, a similar “No Jab, No Play” law prevents children from attending child-care centres unless they’ve had all the necessary vaccinations for their age.

Under both laws, vaccine objection no longer counts as an exemption category for immunization, although exemptions can be made for children who have adverse reactions to certain vaccines or are found by a doctor to have a natural immunity.

Canada has neither versions of these laws. Only three provinces in Canada  Ontario, New Brunswick and Manitoba have legislation governing the vaccination of schoolchildren.

In order to attend school in Ontario or New Brunswick, a child must be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, while Manitoba requires a measles vaccination. In each province, exceptions can be made for medical, conscientious or religious reasons.

A law in Ontario requiring doctors and nurses to record all immunizations given to children beginning on July 1 was scrapped by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s new government. Ford’s caucus halted the implementation of the new legislation on June 28 in response to concerns by the Ontario Medical Association about health-care providers’ ability to begin the required record-keeping on July 1.

Ontario’s auditor general has previously criticized the province for its poor immunization record-keeping, which has lead to high numbers of students falling behind on their immunizations and being suspended from school, as reported in February by the Toronto Star.

The new policy would have represented a step toward creating a digital system for tracking child immunization records across the province.