Italy's Health Ministry has announced a measles prevention plan that would keep obligatory vaccinations in place for 0-16 year olds, as well as aiming to vaccinate people aged up to 30-35.
Vaccines will be offered in schools and universities as well as sports clubs, and ministers are discussing possible incentives for young people who choose to be vaccinated.
The announcement comes after a spike in the number of measles cases in Italy including several outbreaks around the country this year.
This week, 8 cases of measles were reported at the Giovanni XXIII pediatric hospital in Bari, reportedly affecting a ten year-old-girl, her sister and two cousins, none of whom had been vaccinated, and several other patients, including an 11-month-old boy, who was too young to be vaccinated.
“There is a measles emergency,” said Vittorio Demicheli, vaccines consultant to the Ministry of Health, “and it is in the age group [under 16s] that the next national plan for the elimination of the disease will dedicate particular attention to.”
“The vaccination obligation will be kept so that coverage remains good, in the new generations,” he said.
File photo of a nurse preparing a syringe to vaccinate a young boy. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP
“It’s also necessary to offer vaccines to adolescents and susceptible young adults, otherwise it will take many years to interrupt the chain of infections,” said Demicheli. “Recent outbreaks have affected people with a median age of 25 years, while the outbreak in the north last year hit mainly 27-year-olds.”
Health workers will also be pressed to get vaccinated amid fears that they are putting patients’ health at risk.
No new laws will be needed, said Demichelli, because ‘the tools already exist.”
He pointed out that the Marche region had already banned unvaccinated adults from working in nurseries or paediatric hospitals.
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Of 100 health workers who contracted the measles virus in Italy last year, 83 had not been vaccinated, Massimo Galli, Professor at Simit, the Italian Institute for Infectious and Tropical Diseases, told The Local Italy.
“It is therefore absolutely unacceptable that a healthcare provider is not protected and consequently does not protect their patients, preventing the spread of infection,” he said.
Doctors in Puglia said some 91-92% of people in the region are vaccinated, and that a population coverage of 95% was needed for public health protection, a number which takes into consideration ‘those who couldn’t be vaccinated for physical and congenital reasons.’
They appealed to families to “inform themselves correctly” about vaccines.
There has been confusion among parents as to whether or not vaccinations were required for children starting school this year after a series of amendments and U-turns by the government.
The current coalition government between the Five Star Movement 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.
In September the governing Five Star Movement (M5S) presented parliament with an amendment that effectively halts its own reform and reinstates the previous vaccination requirements.
There's a large and growing anti-vaccine movement in Italy, and a lower number of vaccinations is thought to be one of the factors behind an increase in measles cases.
Last year Italy accounted for nearly a quarter of all measles cases in Europe, according to the World Health Organization.
Italy was one of the countries where now-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 has also been heavily criticised for its role in raising doubts over the effectiveness of vaccinations.
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 criticise it for restricting children's access to education.