Vaccine row erupts in Italy as populist govt seeks to ease rules

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ROME, Aug 11, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – A row is erupting over vaccines in Italy as
the country’s new populist government fights to roll back a law that bans
children from attending school if they haven’t received a series of jabs.

The law, adopted last year by the centre-left government that was booted
out of power in March, made it compulsory for children in pre-school
education to be vaccinated against 10 diseases, including measles, tetanus
and poliomyelitis.

Parents who have not vaccinated their children by the time they reach
school age (six years old in Italy) face a fine of up to 500 euros.

The new administration — formed of the anti-establishment Five Star
Movement and the nationalist League — is leading the charge against the law.

Last week, the upper house Senate approved an amendment proposed by Five
Star and the League pushing back enforcement of compulsory vaccination for
pre-schoolers to the 2019-20 school year, pending a complete revision of the
law after the summer recess.

New health minister Giulia Grillo, from Five Star, has drafted a new bill
introducing what she calls a “flexible obligation”, giving priority to
education on the benefits of vaccines, encourages use of compulsory
vaccination only over short periods and instances when the coverage rate is
too low.

Grillo, a doctor, claims there will be guarantees that children who haven’t
be immunised could be enrolled in classes where the WHO recommended coverage
is assured.

However she also caused outrage when, in an interview with major daily
Corriere Della Sera on Wednesday, she said that it wasn’t realistic to “make
people believe that no one will die” of measles.

– Outbreak –

Parents currently have to present pre-school institutions with booklets
that list the vaccines, updated by the doctors who administer them.

 

For the 2019-20 school year plans were in place for educators to get
vaccine information on each child directly from local health authorities, a
measure designed to bypass the possibility of anti-vax parents falsifying
documentation.

That measure was adopted in order to fight back against a drop in the
number of people being vaccinated that had taken coverage below the 95
percent limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

That coverage ratio is the minimum required to create the communal immunity
that staves off diseases and protects people with compromised immune systems
who can’t be vaccinated.

Coverage rates increased in Italy following the enaction of the previous
government’s law, but many regions remain well below the WHO threshold for a
number of illnesses.

Data from Italy’s National Health Institute released in July showed that
four people — including a 10-month-old baby — had died from measles between
January and May, the same number that died in the whole of 2017. In total
over 1,700 people had contracted the disease, while last year 5,400 cases
were recorded.

– Fightback –

The WHO says that Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of the 21,315
measles cases recorded across Europe last year, when cases of the disease
soared across the continent.

The number of cases in Italy alone last year was close to the entire
European total for 2016, a record low of 5,273, according to the WHO.

While both Five Star head Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini
say they are in favour of vaccines and have vaccinated their own children,
they consider the current law “coercive” and criticise it for blocking
children’s access to education.

Some people are fighting back against the government, with a petition
created by concerned parents against the amendment attracting around 100,000
signatures in just a few days.

Several regional presidents have announced that they intend to enforce the
vaccine obligation even if it is withdrawn, while the national association of
headteachers has also said that the current law would remain in force and
that parents would have to present a medical certificate proving their
children have been vaccinated.

 

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