Italy begins to enforce the "No Vaccines, No School" policy after the deadline

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The anti-vaccination protesters are preparing for a vigorous chant of "What do we want? Measles! When do we want it? Now!" In the center of Rome, 2017.
Photo: Andrew Medichini (AP)

The Italian schools have started to send away children who have not received the mandatory vaccinations after the temporary expiry of the renouncement, the New York Times reported, with at least 300 children who declared they could not attend the asylum in the city of Bologna this week.

A law of 2017 requires children enrolled in Italian schools to receive 10 different vaccines, writes the Times, in "a response to a worrying decline in vaccinations at the national level and a measles epidemic in the same year". However, last year the Ministry of Health, led by a five-star Movement political party, whose co-founder noted conspiracy theories linking vaccination to autism, issued a temporary rule which allows parents to simply state that children have been vaccinated rather than receive a note from a doctor. The renunciation was strongly criticized by the scientific and medical community, which stated that it could reverse the progress made in increasing the vaccination rates of Italy in recent years.

"The measles vaccine coverage in Italy was equal to that of Namibia, lower than Ghana," Roberto Burioni, professor of microbiology and virology at the San Raffaele University in Milan, told CNN last year. "But the law was working, the coverage was improving. We should strengthen it, not weaken it."

However, this waiver expired on March 10, writes the Times, which means that the provisions of the law that prohibit the attendance of nursery schools by unvaccinated children and the imposition of fines on parents who refuse to vaccinate older children are now back in force:

Children cannot attend nursery schools unless they are vaccinated and parents of elementary and middle school students face fines of up to 500 euros if they do not have doctor's records showing that their children have been vaccinated against the required diseases.

In Bologna, officials said the 300 children did not present the official document attesting their vaccination on Monday, and therefore could not attend public nursery schools.

"Now everyone has had time to catch up," Health Minister Giulia Grillo told Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "… No vaccine, no school."

According to the BBC, the 10 vaccines include those that immunize against chickenpox, polio, measles, mumps and rubella. Bologna officials said that around 5,000 children in the city do not have adequate documentation that they have been vaccinated. The BBC added that the Italian media reported that regional authorities are "facing the situation in a number of different ways", without notification of suspensions reported in some areas and grace periods allowed in others.

The BBC wrote that the law was passed to strengthen Italian vaccination rates, partly due to a growing movement of anti-vaccination activists (widely known as antiaxxers). These people believe that vaccines are dangerous and, depending on what disinformation they have absorbed, can cause everything from autism and attention deficit disorder to "vaccine overload", a fictional condition that is not a true and true own medical term. Such conspiracy theories have been repeatedly discredited by the researchers and have no scientific support, although the number of people who believe in them has become significant enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) considered the movement one of the top 10 threats Global Public Health Reports of 2019.

"Italy is part of a global trend of mistrust in mediators – doctors and scientists – who can interpret and explain the data," the history of medicine and bioethics teacher at CNN in 2018 told CNN. ; La Sapienza University of Rome Andrea Grignolio. "With the advent of the Internet, people have the illusion of being able to access and read data on their own, eliminating the need for technical and scientific knowledge."

According to the Times, the current Italian government is working on a confused plan to introduce a "flexible obligation", in which immunization would be mandatory only if the rates fall below the herd's immunity levels. This is the point where so many people have been vaccinated against a given disease that those who have forgiven their shots will still be unlikely to take it, but it is difficult to understand what the purpose of a "flexible" system is in addition to preserving the opt-in out for antivaxxers.

While immunization rates were around 80% in 2017, when the law was approved, the Times added, the country is approaching (and in some areas it has already reached) the goal of the # 39. ; 95% WHO.

[New York Times/BBC]

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