Measles is on the rise in Europe. Over 21,000 Europeans were affected by measles in 2017, and there were 35 deaths. Most of these cases should have been prevented, and likely would have been if vaccination rates had been higher. No other vaccine-preventable disease causes as many deaths as measles. What’s particularly worrying is that the surge in cases in 2017 represents a four-fold increase on the year before.
Across the EU, governments are desperately trying to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated against common diseases such as measles. For example, France has made vaccinations compulsory from this year, while the Italian government has banned children from attending state schools if they haven’t been vaccinated.
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Manuel, who believes mandatory vaccination is the wrong approach (though, as a last resort, it might be necessary). He thinks governments should work to educate parents, and explain why leaving their children unvaccinated puts them at risk (as well as risking the health of others around them).
To get a response, we spoke to Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Would he agree that education is a better approach than mandatory vaccination?
For another perspective, we also spoke to Piernicola Pedicini, an Italian MEP with the 5-Star Movement. He has previously made the case against compulsory vaccination. What would he say to Manuel?
On the other hand, we also had a comment from Corrado, who believes that leaving children unvaccinated represents a clear public health risk, and the state should not allow it to happen. He draws a parallel with driving without car insurance:
When there is a right choice and a wrong choice, it can happen that the state just skips the information stage when the desired outcome would not change. Why should the state invest in information campaigns about the risk of owning a car without insurance, when the best alternative is to force every car owner to have one altogether, regardless of the driver knowing why?
Is he right? If unvaccinated children are a public health risk, why not make vaccination mandatory?
We put his comment to Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis for a reaction.
Finally, how would Piernicola Pedicini MEP respond?
We support the goal of achieving the highest possible immunisation rates, but we disagree on the most effective policy to achieve it. As said, we believe that politics should take responsibility and help build up a system of trust and confidence in the institutions. The compulsory vaccination approach was introduced more than 50 years ago to tackle infectious diseases.
Today we need an ‘active recommendation’ approach, that is to say a conscious exercise of free choice and valid consent towards vaccinations, in a system where physicians and health professionals play a crucial role between institutions and families.
Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence that mandatory vaccination is more effective than recommendation in increasing vaccine coverage. There are data and statistics on the related policies in EU Member states, or other countries outside Europe, which point to mandatory vaccinations not being decisive in determining childhood immunisation rates.
What’s the best way to get parents to vaccinate their kids? Is education is a better approach than mandatory vaccination? Or is compulsory vaccination the best solution, given that this is such a public health issue? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!