France Just Made Vaccines Mandatory In An Effort To Protect Children

The French Prime Minister said it's "unacceptable" children are still dying of measles.

Starting in 2018, the French government will make it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children.

The decision, announced by French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, comes after a series of measles outbreaks in Europe despite readily available vaccines. Philippe said it was "unacceptable" children are dying of measles in a country that helped pioneer vaccines. 

According to France's National Public Health Agency, in the first two months of 2017, there were 79 cases of measles in France. Between 2008 and 2016, there have been some 24,000 cases of measles across the country — including 1,500 that had serious complications and 10 that were fatal. The World Health Organization (WHO) says measles is a leading cause of death for young children worldwide. 

Vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and polio are already mandatory in France, and have proven results. But the new regulations will add eight more vaccines — for a total of 11 — to the compulsory list. 

Still, Philippe's decision to make vaccines mandatory may be met with some opposition. A widely-reported 2016 poll found that 41 percent of French citizens "disagreed" with the idea that vaccines were safe, making them the most vaccine-skeptical country of 66 nations polled in the survey. Much like in the United States, much of the fear around vaccines can be traced back to a now-discredited paper published 20 years ago in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield, which linked vaccines to autism.

In the United States, lawmakers have taken similar steps as their European counterparts. California passed a law in 2015 that no longer allowed parents to abstain from vaccinating their children based on "personal beliefs." The legislation came after 15 years of declining vaccination rates, which left one in ten children enrolled in reporting child care facilities without all of their required immunizations. Over the span of three years, the rate of vaccinated children went from 89.3 percent in the 2013-2014 school year to 95.6 percent in the 2016-2017 school year

Employees of the Red Cross Society in Ukraine unload boxes of measles vaccines.Yanosh Nemesh / Shutterstock. 

Other countries have seen similar successes with vaccine pushes. In Italy, 12 mandatory vaccines were issued in May for children under the age of 16, and the Italian health minister Beatrice Lorenzin said declining vaccination rates was a health emergency "generated by fake news." In India, 167 million children under the age of six are vaccinated over the course of a week two times a year. As a result, the country — once the most likely place to find polio — has eradicated the disease

In a WHO press release, Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the Regional Director for Europe, said the rise of measles in Europe is particularly concerning — and that more action needs to take place.

"Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations," Dr. Jakab said. "Together we must make sure that the hard-earned progress made towards regional elimination is not lost."

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Africa Studio


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