The number of measles cases is growing at an disturbing rate. The World Health Organization has raised the alarm on the infectious disease, announcing that the numbers worldwide have grown by 300% in the first three months of 2019, when compared with the same time period last year. Yet, the viral illness is not only spreading in countries with limited access to healthcare, but also here in Europe, we are seeing children and adults falling ill with this potentially life-threatening condition. Whilst vaccinations against the virus have kept it at bay for many years, a fall in the number of children being vaccinated has opened the flood gates for a sharp increase in new cases.
The rate of babies, children and adults falling ill with measles is being directly linked with a so-called ‘anti-vaccination’ or ‘anti-vax’ movement that is sweeping the continent and the rest of the world. Parents and carers are being put off from vaccinating their children, because of the false information being spread about them. In particular, the measles vaccine is being put under the microscope by vaccination sceptics, who claim the vaccination is not safe.
Governments across Europe are so concerned by the anti-vaccination rhetoric that many have proposed steps to mandate vaccinations for young children. Parents and carers in Germany could face a fine of €2,500 for not vaccinating their children; the same applying to unvaccinated teachers and healthcare professionals. For those living in Italy, the government suggested that unvaccinated children would not be allowed to attend school, whilst the health secretary of the United Kingdom says he “won’t rule out” compulsory vaccinations for children. Elsewhere in Europe, countries like Finland and Luxembourg do not have compulsory vaccinations, yet their rates of uptake are better than other countries on the continent.
Given the disparity in approaches across Europe, it seems clear that governments in countries with falling vaccination rates may struggle to decide which approach to take. The fining of parents or carers who do not vaccinate their children might help vaccination rates, yet it could be argued that a fixed fine may only encourage families who cannot afford to pay the fine to vaccinate their children. Preventing children from attending school would punish the child for a decision they cannot make themselves, rather than their parents or carer.