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“It just forces hardship”: impacts of government financial penalties on non-vaccinating parents


Despite strong evidence confirming vaccination is safe and effective, some parents choose not to vaccinate their children. In 2016, the Australian Government introduced legislation strengthening links between vaccination compliance and some government payments. We interviewed thirty-one non-vaccinating parents about the impacts of this policy. Data analysis produced three key themes: ‘questioning policy integrity’, ‘minimising impact’ and ‘holding my ground’. Affected parents offset reduced income by removing children from early childhood learning, reducing work commitments, moving residence to reduce living costs and accessing informal childcare arrangements. Parents reported a greater commitment to their decision not to vaccinate and an increased desire to maintain control over health choices for their children including an unprecedented willingness to become involved in protest action. Our study identifies why financial penalties have not been an effective policy measure for this sample of non-vaccinating parents, an understanding which may assist in the development of future legislation.

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Herd immunity threshold


New South Wales


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Correspondence to Catherine Helps.

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Helps, C., Leask, J. & Barclay, L. “It just forces hardship”: impacts of government financial penalties on non-vaccinating parents. J Public Health Pol 39, 156–169 (2018).

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  • Immunisation
  • Childhood vaccination
  • Compliance
  • Herd immunity
  • Financial penalties
  • Vaccine refusal