Italy’s populist government is rolling back a law that makes vaccinations obligatory for children, pursuing a highly contentious policy that has been strongly criticised by doctors, schools and medical associations.
A law passed by the previous centre-Left government in March made it obligatory for parents to give their children 10 vaccinations if they wanted to enroll them in state schools.
But the Five Star Movement and The League, which make up the populist government that came to power in June, are both deeply hostile to the law and have been accused of peddling widely-debunked conspiracy theories about the supposed risk of having the jabs.
The upper house of parliament has approved an amendment that will postpone the introduction of the law by a year, until the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
The lower house will vote on the issue after the summer holiday.
Matteo Salvini, the interior minister and the head of The League, has been particularly critical of vaccinations, calling them “useless and in many cases dangerous,” playing on fears that they can cause autism.
Some schools have said they will turn away children who are not fully vaccinated because of the risk of disease being spread to other pupils.
But Mr Salvini and his partners in Five Star say they are determined that children who have not had the jabs should be allowed to attend school.
Many medical professionals and the leaders of some of Italy’s 20 regions are aghast at the coalition’s stance.
They say it will send Italy “back to the Middle Ages” and could lead to the return of diseases that until now have been under control.
As Italian parents question whether they should take their children to the doctor to have the jabs, there has been a sharp rise in the number of measles, with 5,000 cases last year, up from around 900 in 2016.
Stefano Bonaccini, the governor of the wealthy northern region of Emilia Romagna, said: “Halting compulsory vaccinations to surrender to the no-vaccination lobby sends us right back to the Middle Ages.”
Roberto Burioni, a prominent immunologist, has accused Mr Salvini of telling “dangerous lies”.
“(These vaccines) are the same ones used all over the world. They save millions of lives in total safety.
"They protect you, your children and also all the Italian citizens that you have the duty to protect".
The World Health Organisation recommends that children have vaccinations for diseases such as rubella, measles, polio and hepatitis B.
MPs from the opposition Democratic Party called for a “revolt” against the government’s vaccinations policy.
Davide Faraone, a senator from the centre-Left party, described the coalition’s erosion of compulsory vaccinations as “horrendous”, saying it would cause chaos when children went back to school in September.
“It’s going to create a sort of Wild West situation in which the responsibility for the health of children will be left totally to parents,” he said on Monday. “It’s really dangerous.”
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