It’s official – Italy made a move that has both relieved and angered people on the vaccine spectrum. As of May 19, 2017, all children up to the age of sixteen must get vaccinated against twelve common illnesses if they are enrolling or enrolled in state-funded schools. They include: polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae B, meningitis B and C, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and chickenpox. A major reason for the Italian government’s mandatory vaccine law is to combat widespread misinformation about vaccines.
Following in the steps of Italy, France’s Prime Minister Édouard Philippe recently announced that starting 2018 onwards parents will be legally obliged to vaccinate their children against 11 common illnesses. This comes after 79 cases of the measles were reported within the first two months of 2017.
As of now, only three vaccines are mandatory in France- diphtheria, tetanus, and polio. The new plan will extend to include eight more: measles, hepatitis B, influenza, whooping cough, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, and meningitis C.
If the debate wasn’t already heated, it is now!
Italy and France’s Vaccination Issues
The battle between vaxxers and anti-vaxxers is an ongoing one. However, the speedy laws seem to have come as a direct response to a measles outbreak that has taken both nations by surprise. In comparison to April 2016, Italy has seen a five-fold increase in measles cases with no sign of slowing down.
In France, between 2008 and 2016, more than 24,000 cases of measles were reported, 1500 of which had serious complications and 10 cases which led to death. In the first two months of 2017, there were 3 times more reported cases of the measles than what was reported in 2016 over the same period.
It remains unclear whether the rise in incidences of measles is merely a correlation or causation of the growing anti-vaccine movement. In either case, though, Italy’s Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin continues to try and correct the rapid decrease in vaccinations, which she has referred to as “an emergency generated by fake news.”
In a bold and hopeful stance, Lorenzin shared photos of her own three-month-old twins getting vaccinated with the caption: “Mums, don’t be afraid.”
I miei gemellini hanno tre mesi, li ho vaccinati stamattina: Mamme non abbiate paura, i vaccini salvano la vita. pic.twitter.com/7CZczmy621
— Beatrice Lorenzin (@BeaLorenzin) September 10, 2015
Both countries publicly blame the increase in parents who shun vaccinations largely due to the “spread of anti-scientific theories.” The supposed rumors likely have roots in a discredited 1998 study in The Lancet that Andrew Wakefield led. Wakefield fraudulently claimed there was a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) and autism and bowel disease after observing twelve children with no replicated results.[1,3]
This paper has likely played an important role in the number of two-year-olds vaccinated against measles has dropped below 80 percent in Italy. This is more than 15 percent lower than the World Health Organization’s recommended coverage of 95+ percent. When it comes to people’s perceptions towards vaccine safety, a survey determined that France is considered one of the most skeptical, with 41 percent of French respondents disagreeing with the statement “vaccines are safe”, compared to a global average of 13 percent.
According to France’s health minister Agnès Buzyn “Since [measles] vaccine is only recommended and not mandatory, the coverage rate is 75 percent, whereas it should be 95 percent to prevent this epidemic. We have the same problem with meningitis.”
Such beliefs can lead to serious repercussions. For example, an Italian nurse apparently pretended to administer vaccines but only threw away the vials. Now Treviso, a city in northern Italy has potentially 20,000 children who are at risk of infectious diseases.
It’s easy for people in almost any country to praise or criticize their government’s decisions. But with numbers like the ones above, it’s always wise to dig deeper into the facts and consider what the best decision is not only for the country’s greater good but for yourself. Trying to deal with a measles outbreak isn’t a preventative measure. It’s a real issue that’s very pressing – and not only in Italy and France.
But, for now, with the law already passed in Italy, children won’t be accepted into nursery or preschools without proof of vaccinations. As for parents who have unvaccinated children that are legally obliged to attend school, they will face fines up to thirty times the current ones (i.e., between 150 and 250 euros) for dismissing the law.[2,4]
Why Worry About Vaccinations?
As mentioned earlier, Wakefield’s fraudulent paper has caused much of the rumor around vaccinations. While the claims (i.e., autism and bowel disease) are frightening, they aren’t necessarily or always true.
Below we’ve listed six points that address the most common misconceptions concerned parents raise to their health-care workers, and rightfully so. We encourage you to ask as many questions as you need to until you’re satisfied.
Better hygiene and sanitation have definitely helped lower and prevent diseases. But vaccines also seem to have played a significant causal role in decreasing disease susceptibility around the world.
The majority of people who have been vaccinated don’t actually also get diseases.
Simply because someone reports an adverse event doesn’t mean that the vaccine caused it. Also, not all vaccines are the same so it isn’t fair (or safe) to find vaccines with the most incident reports and avoid them entirely.
Contrary to many anti-vaccine publications, vaccines are (maybe surprisingly) very safe. In fact, across the board, the adverse effects caused by vaccines are minor and temporary (e.g., sore arms or fevers). While more serious effects have occurred, these incidences are rare – so rare that no definitive risk can be accurately assessed. In terms of vaccine-related deaths, it’s most commonly found to be a programmatic error and not one related to vaccine manufacture.
Vaccines are largely responsible for reducing most vaccine-preventable diseases. However, they still exist in other parts of the world and have the potential to spread and it only takes few to turn into tens or hundreds or thousands of cases without the protection that vaccines provide.
If you’re worried about multiple vaccines leading to multiple side effects, consider this: Your children are exposed to many foreign agents every day that are putting their immune system to the test. You can find them in food, in your kids’ mouths and noses, in their classrooms, etc. For your own assurance, you can explore the available scientific evidence showing that multiple simultaneous vaccinations have no adverse effects on the normal childhood immune system.
Will one article solve the pro-vaxxer and anti-vaxxer debate? Of course not. But we hope this allows people to understand the very real and relevant arguments coming from both sides. The lives of the next generations could be on the line so topics like this one demand to be explored, regardless of the side of the fence you stand on.