Measles cases rise six-fold in Italy as populists pledge to scrap compulsory vaccines

The Local Italy
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Measles cases rise six-fold in Italy as populists pledge to scrap compulsory vaccines
File photo of a nurse preparing a syringe to vaccinate a young boy. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP

There were almost 5,000 cases of measles in Italy last year, and four people died of the disease, according to newly-released data from the Italian health ministry.


The number of cases is almost six times as high as in 2016, and comes as two of Italy's political parties included promises to scrap compulsory vaccines in their election campaigns. In 2016, 844 measles cases were reported, up from 251 in 2015.

In 95 percent of the cases recorded last year, the patient had either not been vaccinated against the disease or had only received one of the recommended two doses, the figures released by the health ministry on Thursday show. 

There were more measles cases in Italy than almost any other EU country, with Romania the only exception. Complications occurred in over a third -- 35.8 percent -- of cases.

The four people who died of measles in Italy last year included a 41-year-old and three under-10s, aged one, six, and nine. None of the victims had been vaccinated. 

Among all of those affected by measles, the ages varied from one day to 84 years.

In May 2017, Italy's cabinet approved a law making vaccinations compulsory for children starting at state schools, with those against measles and meningitis among the newly obligatory vaccines.

A growing anti-vaccine movement in the country is thought to be one of the causes in the recent drastic rise in measles cases, and it has become highly politicized in the run-up to the March 4th general election.

Italy was one of the countries where discredited claims of a link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism had a significant impact on public perceptions of the safety of the jab.

And the Five Star Movement party has also been heavily criticized for its role in raising doubts over the efficacy of vaccinations. A law proposal put forward by the party in 2014 called for "better information and possible denial of administering vaccinations" and cited the debunked studies.

The compulsory vaccine law was challenged by Northern League-run administrations in some of Italy's northern regions, and both the Northern League and Five Star Movement have included plans to scrap the law in their election campaigns.

READ ALSO: These are the key promises Italy's politicians have made to voters


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