Should Vaccines Be Required? In Italy, Parents Can Now Be Fined for Skipping Kids’ Shots

Amid a measles epidemic spreading throughout Europe, the Italian government approved a measure to fine parents who don’t seek medical help on vaccinating their children. The measure even puts parents at risk of losing custody if they don’t vaccinate their kids.

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Despite objections, Italian officials in May ruled that children must be vaccinated against 12 common illnesses—including polio, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough—before they can enroll in state-run schools, the BBC reported. Parents reportedly will face steep fines for sending non-vaccinated kids to child care facilities or schools.

0619_measles_vaccinations_01 A health agent prepares a vaccine during a campaign of vaccination against yellow fever in Rio de Janeiro on March 25. Some countries will fine parents if they don’t seek medical help regarding vaccinations for their children. Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Public health officials point to extensive research showing vaccines protect the common good and that adverse side effects are rare. Numerous scientific studies have failed to find a connection between vaccines and autism, but concerns about a direct relation have lingered.

Measles, a preventable disease, is still common in many parts of the world, including some countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. It’s hitting Europe hard this year, mainly in Italy and Romania, according to the World Health Organization. Romania has reported more than 3,400 cases and 17 deaths since January 2016, with the majority of cases concentrated in areas where immunization coverage is especially low. Italy has seen a sharp rise in cases, with at least 400 already this year. Experts predict the outbreak will only get worse.

Amid the measles outbreak, other countries have tightened their laws. In Germany, for example, parents who don’t seek medical advice on whether to vaccinate their children could face fines of up to about $2,800, the BBC reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers to Italy protect themselves by ensuring they are vaccinated against measles, particularly infants ages 6 to 11 months and children 1 or older.

Meanwhile, in the United States, 100 Americans from 11 states were reported to have measles through May this year, according to the CDC. Last year, 70 individuals from 16 states were reported to have measles, and in 2015 188 people from 24 states and Washington, D.C., were affected. The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014, with 667 cases from 27 states reported to the CDC. That was the most cases since the disease’s elimination was documented in the U.S. in 2000. The majority of those individuals, the CDC reported, were unvaccinated.

Similar to the effort in Italy, lawmakers in California reacted to the largest U.S. measles outbreak in decades by approving a bill in 2015 that prevents most parents from opting out of vaccinations for their school-enrolled children.

Not everyone believes in such measures: Vaccine skeptics rallied in D.C. in March, two months after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. The purpose of the event was to protest what they saw as biased media coverage, exploitation by the pharmaceutical industry and government protection for what the organizer, Revolution for Truth, said are dangerous inoculations.

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