In response to a rise in illnesses like measles, the government of Italy has made 12 vaccinations mandatory for children who enroll in state-run schools. Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni blamed the “spread of anti-scientific theories” for decreased vaccinations and rising rates of some diseases.
“The lack of appropriate measures over the years and the spread of anti-scientific theories, especially in recent months, has brought about a reduction in protection,” Mr Gentiloni told a press conference on Friday.
The BBC reports that Italy has recorded almost three times as many measles cases so far this year than for all of 2016.
In Italy, the number of two-year-olds vaccinated against measles has dropped from more than 90% to below 80%. This is well short of the World Health Organization’s recommended coverage of 95% or more.
The 12 illnesses against which Italian children must be immunized include polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae B, meningitis B, meningitis C, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, and chickenpox.
When Gentiloni mentioned “anti-scientific theories,” he was, of course, referring to the anti-vax movement and the long-debunked “link” between the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) shot and autism. The autism myth, which has been spread or encouraged by everyone from Jenny McCarthy to Donald Trump, is based on a 1998 paper by then-doctor Andrew Wakefield.
This supposed link has been extensively debunked, including through a scientific review by the U.S. Institute of Medicine, which found that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal–containing vaccines and autism.” Wakefield’s co-authors retracted his interpretation of the data and the journal in which it was published, The Lancet, retracted the original article itself. Wakefield was later barred from practicing medicine for “serious misconduct” related to his discredited study. The myth he perpetuated, though, is still widely believed.
In Italy, false beliefs like this have apparently caused rates of certain diseases to soar, leading to an increase in mandatory vaccinations for school children. And we should all applaud the effort. Parents who choose not to vaccinate can enroll their kids in private schools or homeschool them. The rest of the country can stay safe.
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