Effective 2018, French parents will be legally responsible for ensuring that their young children are vaccinated against 11 specified illnesses, unanimously recommended by health authorities including WHO.
Eight new vaccines have been added to the three existing ones – measles, hepatitis B, and influenza vaccines – that are compulsory under the current law. The new additions are whooping cough, mumps, rubella, pneumonia, and meningitis C vaccines.
While addressing the Parliament on Tuesday, Édouard Philippe, France’s new prime minister, referred to the pioneering French chemist Louis Pasteur who developed first rabies and anthrax vaccines in the 19th century.
The prime minister said that “diseases that we believed to be eradicated are developing once again, children are dying of the measles in France and in the country of Pasteur, that is unacceptable.”
Speaking to the French newspaper Le Parsien in June, new health minister Agnes Buzyn had hinted that the prevailing system was inadequate – “a real public health problem” is what she called it adding that the eleven vaccines were being made mandatory in light of the recent measles outbreak in the country.
“Today, only three infant vaccines are compulsory (diphtheria, tetanus, and polio). This poses a real public health problem,” Buzyn said.
“Today, in France, measles reappears. It is not tolerable that children die from it: 10 have died since 2008. Since this vaccine is only recommended and not mandatory, the coverage rate is 75 percent, whereas it should be 95 percent to prevent this epidemic.”
“We have the same problem with meningitis. It’s not acceptable that a 15-year-old teenager could die just because they have not been vaccinated,” the minister added.
A similar policy adopted by Italy in May has made non-vaccinated children ineligible for state schools.
24,000 cases of measles with 1500 serious complications and 10 related deaths were reported in France between 2008 and 2016 notwithstanding the easy availability of the vaccine. It is the French people’s distrust of vaccination – fuelled by anti-vaccine movements – that have contributed to the low immunity against communicable diseases in the country.
Findings of a survey conducted on 65,819 individuals across 67 countries revealed that 41% of the French people surveyed did not agree that “vaccines are safe” while the global average is just 13%.
“We are astonished to see that 41 percent of the French say they are wary of vaccinations,” remarked Dr. François Chast, head of pharmacology at Paris hospitals.
“It is urgent to fight the speeches of anti-science and anti-vaccination lobbies that play on fear, they show nothing and rely on a few very rare side effects to discredit vaccines that save millions of lives,” he added.
“As soon as we talk about a vaccination obligation, it triggers a row,” said Professor Alain Fischer, president of a body that advises on vaccinations.
“Unfortunately there are no other solutions to combat the upsurge in childhood diseases. It is a short term evil for a long-term good.”
Another major contributor to the apprehensions about vaccine safety has been the fake study by the disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield who has been barred from practicing medicine in the UK.
His study linking the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to autism and bowel disease published in the journal “The Lancet” (1998) was officially struck off the journal in light of a “fatal conflict of interest.” Subsequent scientific studies were successful in disproving the mythical theory of Wakefield the quack.
The January and February records of 2017 show 79 cases of measles reported in France mainly because of the outbreak of 50 cases reported in the north-eastern region of Lorraine, as confirmed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Italian expert on infectious diseases Alberto Giubilini believes that there is justification in holding the parents liable for not vaccinating their children.
“The benefits of vaccination in terms of protection from infectious disease outweigh the costs and risks of vaccination,” he observed. “For instance, the World Health Organisation estimates that between 2000 and 2015, measles vaccination prevented more than 20 million deaths.