After a law permitting unvaccinated children to enroll into nursery expired in Italy, students without updated vaccination records have been facing suspension.
In 2018, Italy's anti-establishment government party Five Star Movement sent shockwaves throughout the country as the party rolled out an amendment that removed mandatory vaccination for schoolchildren for a period of one year. The amendment suspended a previous law that required parents to submit official medical proof from a doctor that confirmed their children had received 10 routine vaccinations when enrolling their children in nurseries or preschools. Now, a year later, the amendment is finally being backtracked and children aged six years old and younger will be expected to be vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination in order to receive admission into nurseries or preschools. The deadline for parents to provide this proof was March 11, following which, if parents failed to provide sufficient evidence, their children could face suspension.
The city of Bologna in Italy has already seen a surprising 300 suspensions filed against students who were yet to be vaccinated. In addition to this, a total of 5,000 children do not have their vaccination schedule documentation up to date and have therefore been given a short extension to provide accurate records so they may continue their studies at school without interruption. Moreover, while students aged between six and 16 cannot be suspended from school, their parents face fines of up to €500 (approximately $560) if they send their unvaccinated children to school.
The law, named Lorenzin law after Italy's former Minister of Health Beatrice Lorenzin who mandated that children receive the ten routine vaccinations, has reportedly already had a positive effect on the nation's immunity levels. On March 11, the Italian health authority published vaccination statistics claiming a national immunization rate at or very close to 95% for children born in 2015, depending on which vaccine was being considered. This is a significant increase from the country's previous immunization rate of 80%.
Regarding the recent development, current Minister of Health Giulia Grillo from Five Star Movement, took to social media platform Facebook to share her thoughts. She stated, "All children have the right to go to class, but I'm sure parents understand that the health of all is the supreme good, as well as a constitutional right, and we must do everything possible to guarantee it universally, especially to immunosuppressed children and those who cannot be vaccinated because they have some illness."
Grillo also admitted that her party was backtracking from their previous anti-vaccination stance. "The Lorenzin law, which introduced the requirement for 10 vaccinations to understand each other, is a law that, at the time of approval, we criticized for several reasons," she explained. "Above all: the law must be a means and not the end, it must be applied where it is needed. We are for the model of the recommendation, which acts on awareness and full information on the issues of prevention." The Minister of Health went on to concede that the scientific community still recommended that vaccinations be mandatory.
In the past, when the amendment to the Lorenzin law was passed, Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at San Raffaele University in Milan, said, "Italy's measles vaccine coverage was par with Namibia, lower than Ghana. But the law was working, the coverage was improving. We should strengthen it, not weaken it. Now, children who are not vaccinated will endanger other children at school who are too small for vaccines or cannot be vaccinated because they suffer from immunosuppressive diseases."
Policy analysts believe that the law was able to pass due to the lack of trust in the safety of vaccinations Italians held post an infamous ruling in 2012 from a Rimini court that established a link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and autism. Though the scientifically false ruling was overturned three years later, it helped bolster the anti-vaccination movement, also known as the anti-vaxx movement, in Italy. The growth of this movement within the nation is parallel to its international surge.
The rise of the anti-vaxx movement has been so problematic that the World Health Organization named it one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. The organization believes that the hesitancy to vaccinate - especially in the "developed world" - "threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases." Because vaccinations are one of the cheapest methods of avoiding disease, preventing an approximate 2-3 million deaths a year, it is truly a public health tragedy that the reluctance to vaccinate is so rampant.