Italian Government Feeds Anti-Science Conspiracies By Reversing Life-Saving Vaccine Law

'Where there is risk, there must be choice.' OK, but your children will die. Renato Murolo 68/Shutterstock

Katie Spalding 08 Aug 2018, 14:48

Italy is set to reverse a law from only last year designed to encourage life-saving vaccinations in children, with a vote in Italy's upper house passing by 148 votes to 110 last week. The move has shocked the scientific and medical community – particularly as the country is currently suffering one of the highest rates of measles in Europe.

Italy's culture of rejecting the science on vaccines goes all the way back to the original Andrew Wakefield scam, but was firmly entrenched into the national consciousness when a Rimini court ruled in 2012 that a child's autism had been caused by an MMR vaccine. Although the case was overturned in 2015, anti-vax conspiracies had taken hold, and a shocking 15 percent of Italians are now either skeptical or hesitant towards vaccines, Time reports.

Italy's new government – the so-called "Government of Change" – is led by a coalition between two parties: the Five Star Movement, or M5S, and the far-right League – and both have a history of exploiting this distrust of vaccines for political gain. As far back as 2015, M5S even proposed a law to ban them, citing the supposed "link between vaccinations and specific illnesses such as leukaemia, poisoning, inflammation, immunodepression, inheritable genetic mutations, cancer, autism and allergies," reports The Guardian. Unsurprisingly, after several years of falling immunization rates, the number of measles cases has shot up – from 251 in 2015, to 844 in 2016, and 4,991 in 2017, according to the LA Times.

Reported measles cases by month of rash onset, Italy, January 2013−August 2017 (n=9,559). Filia, Bella, Del Manso, Baggieri, Magurano, Rota MC, Euro Surveill. 2017

This was the background for last year's radical new law that made vaccinations against 12 diseases mandatory – ruling that children without the vaccines would not be allowed to enroll in state-run schools. At the time, Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin called the fall in vaccines across the country "an emergency generated by fake news".

But since entering office, the new government has rolled back this initiative, first weakening the requirement to prove vaccination, and now suspending the law entirely for a year. In a radio interview in June, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini vowed to "keep going" with the agenda, claiming that "10 mandatory vaccinations are useless, and in many cases dangerous, if not harmful."

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