Vaccination law amendment fuels protests

ROME- Protests raged throughout Italy and the Governor of Veneto appeals against a recent law rendering certain vaccinations mandatory for children under 16. Opposition continues against the measure even after an amendment in early July reduced the number of compulsory vaccinations from 12 to 10 and the maximum figure for financial sanctions for parents dropped to 3,500 euros.

On Saturday night, a flash mob followed by a torchlight procession took place in Livorno organized by the “Committee for the Freedom of Choice to Vaccinations” (“Comitato per la libertà di scelta vaccinale”). The frontline protestors held a sign saying “Don’t mess around with health: freedom of choice and safety”. This protest of 100 people was small-scale in comparison to other recent protests such as the one in Pesaro on July 8, which saw over 10 000 people arrive from all over Italy wearing orange T-Shirts. The latter event saw parents chanting “freedom, freedom” whilst holding up their children, according to reports by Il Fatto Quotidiano. Philosopher Diego Fusaro spoke at the event and claimed that “the issue of vaccinations is an issue of economic interests, those of multinationals and the idea of ‘no alternative’”. Parents also took to the microphone to tell of how they believe that their children have “fallen ill due to vaccinations”. Protests have taken place throughout June and July in Rome, Milan, Florence and other major cities. 

The Region of Veneto has filed an official complaint to the Constitutional Court against the Decree Law No 73 of 2017. “What we reject”, said Governor Luca Zaia, “is state intervention that imposes a collective obligation … which makes Italy the country with the greatest number of compulsory vaccinations in Europe”.

The move, however, has been supported by the Institute of Health (Instituto Superiore di Sanita, ISS) in a letter sent by the organization to Emilia Grazia De Biasi, President of the Hygeine and Health Commission of the Senate. The Institute wrote that the severity of the law’s sactions is “justified by the situation’s urgency and the emergency caused by a decline in vaccinations and by the national epidemic”. Sabino Cassese, former judge of the Constitutional Court of Italy, is another supporter of the law and wrote in an article with Il Corriere della Sera in May that “the two rights in questions, that of Health and that of Education, have a differing importance. The first regards the very life of a person and so prevails over the second”.

Following the decree of June 7, 2017, the maximum number of compulsory vaccinations rose to 12. From the next school year, the law made it a requirement for all children under 16 to have completed these vaccinations in order to enroll in nurseries and compulsory education. Failing this, the child would be declined enrollment to nurseries and parents would receive a monetary fine and would be reported to the Minors’ Court (Tribunali di Minori). Children would not be denied entry to education from primary school onwards but parents would receive financial sanctions from anything between 500 and 7,500 euros, depending on how many vaccines have been missed. Organisation within schools would change, however, with children exempted from the obligation or whose vaccinations would be delayed due to health reasons, will be put in classes with only those who have been vaccinated.

The law has since been amended by the Senate’s Health Commission at the beginning of July. The modification saw the number of compulsary vaccinations reduced from 12 to 10 and the maximum fine reduced from 7,500 euros to 3,500 euros.

Vaccinations against polio, diphtheria, tetanus and hepititus B was already compulsory before June this year. Vaccines for measles, rubella, mumps, chicken pox were made compulsory last month and will remain so. Anti-meningitis B and C, anti-pneumococci and anti-rotavirus vaccinations are to be recommended following the amendment.

According to recent studies released by the Insitute of Health (ISS) reported by the Quotidiano Sanita, vaccines in Italy are believed to have prevented around 50,000 deaths from tetanus and polio alone and more than 3 million deaths from illnesses that are prevented by vaccination.