Italy has banned the vaccination of babies under 3 months old, sparking outrage from anti-vaccination supporters who see the changes as a step backward for safety and poor sanitation.
The new policy reduces the number of people that must receive immunizations to 28 from 63. The changes were announced on Wednesday by the Health Ministry, but the list of exemptions was not included in the statement. If the policy goes into effect in October, the Ministry is assuming that at least 70,000 children will be exempted each year. An updated policy will be released later.
Anti-vaccination advocates were enraged by the new policy, calling it “despicable” and calling the vaccines “a killer” in a tweet from Gabriele Sorbo, a parliamentarian for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.
“The idiotic move by the government is an insult to mothers,” said Marcello Araolfi, who is a Rome gynecologist and the health secretary for the health group FEDE. His sentiments were echoed by anti-vaccination campaigners on Facebook.
The anti-vaccination movement is a relatively new phenomenon in Italy, which first saw its rise in 2015 after a small, sickly baby named Thomas was removed from a public vaccination program. He died a few days later, touching off a debate on the risks and benefits of vaccines.
Since then, anti-vaccination groups in Italy have stirred up a tidal wave of controversy. In a number of cases, parents have refused to have their children vaccinated, or to have them vaccinated along with siblings. In others, doctors refuse to offer vaccinations to children for fear of liability.
The anti-vaccination movement also sparked a wave of fake news and rumors about the benefits and risks of vaccinations. In 2016, an unfounded rumor spread through Facebook claimed that the Italian national health system would reimburse doctors for the cost of inoculations. And earlier this year, a woman started an online campaign of deceptive images — contorted bodies and a photograph of a baby turned into a statue — to encourage parents to withhold their children from immunizations.
Dr. Andrea Falcione, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Genoa, said he was “horrified” by the new policy. “In my opinion, it is the most dangerous policy against vaccinating children we could possibly have.”
Anti-vaccination activists around the world have been criticized for their behavior, as well as a number of hoaxes and false information on social media. Anti-vaccination groups were also blamed for the recent measles outbreak in Minnesota, which infected 128 people.
Francesco De Bernardi, the health minister, said the ban was the result of “intense discussions” with the American Health and Medical Associations. He said the new law would ensure a “legitimacy” for the vaccine program.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls vaccination vital to public health, noting that “the most significant cause of death from diseases like measles is not the vaccine, but rather the untrained, unvaccinated individual.”
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