Families who marched in the streets for “Libera” (Freedom) last year, which helped elect a new government in Italy this year, were recently reassured by a top government official that parents will be not be forced to give their children vaccines as a condition of attending school.1 On July 5, 2018, Italy’s new health minister Giulia Grillo announced that in September parents will not be required to submit paperwork with a doctor’s signature but only assure school officials that their children have been vaccinated in order to enroll them in pre-schools and kindergarten.2 3
A year ago, tens of thousands of parents marched with their children in the streets of Rome, Florence, Milan, Bologna, Turin, Cagliani and other cities in opposition to a forced vaccination decree endorsed by the former Italian President and Health Minister.4 The people rose up against a proposed nationwide vaccine mandate requiring children to get multiple doses of 12 vaccines or be barred from attending school, with parents facing fines of up to $10,000 for failing to vaccinate their children.
The nationwide public demonstrations in Italy last year put pressure on the former center-left Democratic Party government to reduce the numbers of mandated vaccines for children from 12 to 10 and also to limit maximum fines on parents failing to comply with the new law from $10,000 to $600.5 However, widespread grassroots opposition to the forced vaccination law continued and became a factor in the March 2018 election that swept a new populist government into power.6 7
The conservative League and populist Five Star Movement (M5S) parties now heading up the new government in Italy expressed opposition to the forced vaccination law before the election. Leading officials from both parties reportedly agreed in a joint contract that children should not be excluded from getting a school education based on their vaccination histories.
Government Officials Move to Keep Pre-Election Promise Supporting Voluntary Vaccinations
On June 22, the new interior minister and vice premier Matteo Salvini, who is also deputy premier of the League, confirmed the intention to keep the pre-election promise made to families advocating for vaccine freedom of choice. “Ten obligatory vaccinations are useless and in many cases dangerous, if not harmful,” said Salvini. “I confirm the commitment to allow all children to go to school. The priority is that they don’t get expelled from the classes.”8
In making the announcement on July 5 that parents would not be required to submit documentation of their child’s vaccination status, new health minister Giulia Grillo, said, “We want to spur school inclusion and simplify rules for parents.” Ms. Grillo is a member of the Five Star Movement.
The Italian people are the first population in modern-day Europe to make opposition to forced vaccination laws a major political issue that became a factor affecting the outcome of a national election.
Parents in Poland March in Protest Against Forced Vaccination
There also is unrest in other European countries about new mandatory vaccination requirements for children that contain societal punishments, such as denying children a school education and parental fines for failing to comply with “no exceptions” vaccine mandates.
In June 2018 thousands of parents and families marched in the streets of Warsaw, Poland against forced vaccination in a public protest that was reminiscent of the 2017 demonstrations in Italy.9 A vaccine law in Poland requires that children receive multiple doses of 11 vaccines and parents can be fined up to $13,000 for failure to comply with the vaccine law.10
Ramping Up of Forced Vaccination Laws Started in 2016
Public health officials in the European Union persuaded politicians to ramp up enforcement of mandatory vaccination laws and add new vaccine mandates after a 2016 global survey of people living in 67 countries revealed that seven of the 10 nations least confident in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines were in Europe, including Italy and France.11 The following year, the French government added eight more vaccines to the nation’s previous mandatory list of three vaccines (polio, tetanus and diphtheria) for children born on or after January 1, 2018. Children in France now must get all the required vaccines to attend daycare, schools and children’s camps, although so far non-compliance does not result in fines against parents.12
The recent push for “no exceptions” enforcement of vaccine mandates is in sharp contrast with the modern history of vaccine policies in Europe. Since massive protests in Victorian England against forced vaccination laws,13 most European countries have preferred to strongly recommend rather than mandate use of vaccines. A 2012 Eurosurveillance report analyzed vaccination programs in 27 E.U. countries plus Norway and Iceland found that more than half had no compulsory vaccination laws, while 14 mandated at least one vaccine. A key finding was that “compliance with many [vaccination] programmes in Europe was high using only recommendations.”14
From Italy to the U.S. Parents Are Defending Voluntary Vaccination
Parents voted with their feet in the streets of Italy in 2017 and at the ballot box in 2018. They have inspired vaccine choice advocates, who are defending the human right to exercise freedom of thought and conscience and informed consent to vaccination in the U.S. and many other countries.
Similar to what is occurring in educated populations in Europe, public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines has continued to erode in the U.S. for the past few decades. A recent survey indicates about 20 percent of Americans think vaccines may be unsafe and 45 percent are not sure.15
In the U.S., vaccine recommendations are made by the federal government but 50 state governments have the authority to make independent decisions about which vaccines will be mandated and what kind of exemptions are allowed in the state. Since the loss of the personal belief vaccine exemption in California in 2015, parents have taken action in many states to protect medical, religious and conscientious belief exemptions in state vaccine laws. No state has eliminated a vaccine exemption since 2015.16
Renewed Assault on Vaccine Exemptions Expected in 2019 in U.S.
The U.S. based non-profit charity the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which was founded by parents of vaccine injured children in 1982 to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths, monitors vaccine legislation. NVIC expects a renewed assault on vaccine exemptions by pharmaceutical industry and medical trade lobbyists in many states in 2019 and 2020 similar to the one orchestrated by forced vaccination proponents in 2015. 17 18
The free online vaccine NVIC Advocacy Portal helps parents stay informed about bills moving in different states that either threaten or protect and expand the legal right to make voluntary vaccine decisions. Registered users of the Portal are put in electronic contact with their own legislators and notified of public hearings on bills, as well as given guidelines for educating legislators about vaccine science, policy, law and the importance of protecting informed consent and other human rights.19
2 The Local Italy. Mandatory vaccination: Italian parents will no longer need to provide doctor’s note. July 6, 2018.
3 Pianigiani G. Proof of Children’s Vaccinations? Italy Will Now Take Parents’ Word for It. The New York Times July 5, 2018.
4 Fisher BL. Vaccine Freedom Marches Across Italy Highlight Global Vaccination Agenda. The Vaccine Reaction June 20, 2017.
5 TVR Staff. Italy Passes Mandatory Vaccination Law. The Vaccine Reaction Aug. 9, 2017.
6 John T. How Anti-Vaxxers Could Help Decide Italy’s Election. Time Magazine Feb. 22, 2018.
7 Winfield N, Murru MG. Italy’s vaccine debate shows anti-establishment sway. Chicago Tribune Mar. 1, 2018.
8 Agenzia Nationale Stampa Associata (ANSA). Salvini Says Having 10 Obligatory Vaccines Useless. ANSA June 22, 2018.
9 Miner L. Thousands of people in Warsaw protest against compulsory vaccinations. Euronews June 2, 2018.
10 TVR Staff. Thousands March in Poland Against Forced Vaccination. The Vaccine Reaction June 25, 2018.
11 Larson HJ, de Figueiredo A et al. The State of Vaccine Confidence 2016: Global Insights Through a 67-Country Survey. EBioMedicine 2016;12:295-301.
12 Rawls A, Fisher BL. European Countries Move to Expand, Enforce Vaccine Mandates. The Vaccine Reaction Feb. 6, 2018.
13 Earl E. The Victorian Anti-Vaccination Movement. The Atlantic July 15, 2017
14 Haverkate M., D’Ancona F, Giambi C et al. Mandatory and Recommended Vaccination in the EU, Iceland and Norway: Results of the VENICE 2010 Survey on the Ways of Implementing National Vaccination Programmes. Euro Surveill 2012; 17(22).
15 TVR Staff. Nearly 20 Percent of Americans Think Vaccines May Be Unsafe and 45 Percent are Not Sure. The Vaccine Reaction June 18, 2018.
16 National Vaccine Information Center. State Vaccine Legislation in America 2015-2017. NVIC.org Oct. 25, 2017.
17 Olive JK, Hotez PJ et al. The state of the antivaccine movement in the United States: A focused examination of nonmedical exemptions in states and counties. PLOS Medicine July 12, 2018.
18 Fisher BL. The Vaccine Culture War in America: Are You Ready? NVIC.org Mar. 8, 2015.
19 Fisher BL. A Guide to Reforming Vaccine Policy and Law. NVIC.org 2017.