ROME - Italians are divided between those who think parents should have the right to decide whether to vaccinate their children and those who feel immunization programs must be decided by the government, which they believe has better access to information. Vaccine regulations differ widely across Europe, and the current situation in Italy is in limbo.
Italians enrolling their children in state-run nursery schools currently are uncertain if they need to provide evidence their children have had 10 vaccinations required by a law that came into effect in March. A week ago, the upper house of parliament voted through an amendment to remove that obligation. But to become law, it must also be approved by the lower house.
Parents have been told that for the time being they can simply provide a self-signed declaration that their children have been vaccinated. Many remain unclear whether their children will be allowed to go to school if they fail to provide a declaration or other evidence of the vaccinations.
A surge of more than 5,000 measles cases last year – the second largest outbreak in Europe – led the government run then by the Democratic Party to pass a bill requiring mandatory vaccinations. However, in the run-up to general elections this year, the 5-Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio and the League led by Matteo Salvini said they would do away with the law. Now in power, they appear to be keeping their promise
Speaking at a recent political rally near Florence, Salvini admitted he had vaccinated his own children and said that parents who have the best interests of their children at heart should be able to make that choice. He added that 10 vaccines are simply too many for some children and it is unthinkable that Italian children may not be able to enroll in school because they have not been vaccinated.
Salvini said a state that requires 10 vaccines must also give parents the certainty that nothing will happen to their children through pre-vaccine tests, which today do not exist. There are 15 European countries, he added, that do not even have a single mandatory vaccine. Noting that Italy now has the most compulsory vaccinations of any country in Europe, Salvini expressed the concern that some multinational or pharmaceutical company may have chosen Italian children as a testing ground.
Italy’s health minister, Giulia Grillo, a doctor and a member of the 5-Star Movement, has made clear the government believes the right balance must be struck between the right to education and the right to health.
Grillo said the 5-Star Movement is not opposed to vaccines and recognizes their importance and usefulness. She added that citizens need to be informed properly about vaccinations and that the National Health Service must provide support to parents and children before and after they are inoculated.
According to a 2010 survey of 27 EU states, plus Norway and Iceland, 15 countries do not have any mandatory vaccinations; the other 14 have at least one. The most common mandatory vaccine is against polio, followed by diphtheria and tetanus.