Amid confusion over the rules as the new school year begins, the governing Five Star Movement (M5S) presented parliament with an amendment that effectively halts its own reform and reinstates the previous vaccination requirements.
The new administration, a coalition between the M5S and the League, had promised to drop a law adopted by the previous government that banned children from starting pre-school unless they had received jabs against ten diseases, including measles, tetanus and polio.
One of its first moves after taking power was to propose an amendment pushing back enforcement of mandatory vaccination to the 2019-20 academic year, pending a complete revision of the law after the summer recess.
The M5S health minister, Giulia Grillo, drafted a new bill introducing a so-called "flexible obligation", prioritizing educating parents on the benefits of vaccines without making them compulsory unless there were an outbreak or the coverage rate is too low.
Health Minister Guilia Grillo. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
While the M5S indicated that reform was still on the table, for now the previous rules will remain in place: pre-schoolers are not permitted to enter nursery or creche without vaccinations, while unvaccinated children aged seven and up can attend school but their parents will have to pay a fine of up to €500.
Parents will no longer have to provide a doctor's note proving their child is vaccinated, however: in another amendment presented on Thursday, the government proposed allowing parents to "self-certify" for the remainder of the school year, a change first announced by Grillo in July.
In parliamentary hearings earlier this week, teachers' representatives told lawmakers that they were facing "chaos" as schools prepared to reopen without clarity on the vaccination requirements. Some school associations and regional authorities said they planned to continue enforcing the previous rules, while a petition started by parents in favour of keeping jabs compulsory received some 300,000 signatures online.
Beatrice Lorenzin, the former centre-left health minister who introduced the compulsory-vaccine law, called the latest amendment "a victory for science over ignorance and prejudice".
A growing anti-vaccine movement in Italy is thought to be one of the factors in a recent spike in cases of measles, which killed four people here in the first five months of 2018 alone. Last year Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of all measles cases in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.
While both Five Star head Luigi Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini say they are in favour of vaccines and have vaccinated their own children, they call the current law "coercive" and criticize it for restricting children's access to education.
Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP