Following months of fiery debate – and measles outbreaks – a new law banning unvaccinated children from Italy’s classrooms has come into effect.
Under the “Lorenzin law,” parents had until March 10, 2019, to provide documentation showing their child had been inoculated with a number of vaccinations, as reported by RAI News, Italy’s national public broadcaster.
If a child under age 6 has not been vaccinated, they will not able to attend kindergartens or schools. If they’re between ages 7 to 16, their parents will face a fine. The mandatory vaccinations include chickenpox, polio, mumps, rubella, and – perhaps most crucially at this time – measles.
"No vaccine, no school,” Giulia Grillo, Italy’s Minister of Health, told La Repubblica. "By now, everyone has had time to catch up."
The city of Bologna reportedly has at least 300 children who currently do not comply with the vaccination requirements and are at risk of suspension from school. In the region of Campania, an estimated 700 children remain unverified. It’s unclear how many children will face suspensions from schools nationwide.
The law was first put forward in 2017 by former health minister Beatrice Lorenzin as a response to a measles outbreak that had gripped Italy. The populist coalition government, led by the “anti-establishment” Five Star Movement and the far-right League party, threatened to overturn the law. As far back as 2015, the Five Star Movement has given a platform to discredited links between vaccinations and autism. By 2017, their ideas had taken root: immunization rates fell and, unsurprisingly, measles cases shot up. However, they later backed down on their promise to withdraw the bill.
The introduction of the "Lorenzin law" also coincides with a huge measles outbreak in Europe. In 2018, Europe saw 82,596 reported cases of measles, three times as many as 2017, and 15 times more than 2016.
Italy isn't the first country to introduce mandatory immunizations. Australia famously introduced it in 2017 and has seen phenomenal success.
On March 10, Italy’s Ministry of Health announced that vaccination coverage of children in Italy was on the up. The national coverage for children born in 2015 was 95.46 percent, above the minimum 95 percent threshold recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). At this 95 percent threshold, "herd immunity" means enough of the population is vaccinated to prevent any significant spread of the disease, thereby protecting people who cannot be vaccinated, such as those with a weakened immune system.
“All children have the right to go to class, but I'm sure that parents will understand that the health of everyone is the supreme good, as well as a constitutional right,” Ms Grillo said in a statement posted to Facebook, “[W]e have the duty to do everything we can to guarantee it in a universal way, especially to children [who are] immunosuppressed.”