An amendment has been introduced in the Italian Senate’s health committee that would eliminate he country’s requirement for proof of vaccination for children starting school. The amendment is expected to pass the senate committee within the week and will then move to the parliament for a vote.
Over the last few years, Italy’s vaccination laws have been changing, depending upon the political party in control of the government. Beginning in July 2017 with enactment of the so-called “Lorenzin Decree,” issued by former Italian Health Minister Dr. Beatrice Lorenzin, parents of children attending school in Italy were required to submit proof their children had received vaccines against diphtheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis B, pertussis, H. influenzae B, measles, mumps and rubella, as well as chicken pox for those born in or after 2017.1
The requirement resulted in hundreds of children being denied entrance to school because their parents had not submitted the necessary vaccination records. Parents not in compliance by the time their children reach school age faced hefty fines.2
Supporters of the policy say it increased vaccination rates since 2016 by one percent for the hexavalent vaccine (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, H. influenzae B and hepatitis B) and 2.9 percent for the MMR vaccine, but it also has drawn harsh criticism not only from vaccine-hesitant parents but also from some politicians, who decried its “imperative modalities.”1
Changing Vaccine Policies Reflect Political Flux
There were massive protests in cities throughout Italy in 2017 against the forced vaccination law requiring children get multiple doses of 10 vaccines.3 National elections in 2018 saw the defeat of the ruling political party that had instituted the new vaccine law and the election of a new populist coalition government formed by an unconventional alliance between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, or M5S,4 and the conservative party known as the Northern League, now referred to simply as the League.5 6 Shortly after the election, Italy’s new health minister Dr. Giulia Grillo announced that parents would 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.7
Pierpaolo Sileri, president of the new senate’s health committee (and a senator with M5S) and vice president of the committee, Maria Cristina Cantù (and a senator with the League) propose to legally reverse the vaccine certification requirement, reverting to an honor system of compliance. Current Health Minister Grillo, of M5S, is not thought to have been involved in drawing up the current amendment to eliminate the vaccination requirement and has not commented either for or against it. However, she is known to have drafted a bill for “flexible obligation,” which focuses on vaccine education rather than mandatory vaccination, “unless there were an outbreak or the coverage rate is too low.8
Both M5S and the League have long been publicly skeptical about vaccines, or at least critical of vaccine laws, and before the elections had initially promised to repeal the law requiring vaccines for school admission. One of their first acts in office was to pass an amendment to delay enforcement of compulsory vaccination until the 2019-2020 school year, “pending a complete revision of the law after the summer recess.” Ultimately, they reversed themselves and, while they still say reforms are “on the table,” existing laws will remain in effect for the time being: children age six and under must be vaccinated to start school, while unvaccinated children age seven and older may attend school but parents will be fined up to 500 euros.9
Importantly, however, the newly submitted amendment does not propose to change the school vaccination requirements themselves, and the proposal has been called a “political ploy” by one MS5 politician supporting the mandatory vaccination law. According to The Guardian, Elena Frattoria of MS5 said, “The amendment doesn’t remove the vaccines obligation itself, just the need to provide certificates, therefore it seems like a political ploy to appeal to the anti-vax campaigners.”10
1 Scavone C et al. Italian Immunization Goals: A Political or Scientific Heated Debate? Front Pharmacol May 30, 2018.
2 Vaccine Row Erupts In Italy As Populist Govt Seeks To Ease Rules. The Local It Aug. 11, 2018.
3 Fisher BL. Vaccine Freedom Marches Across Italy Highlight Global Vaccination Agenda. The Vaccine Reaction June 20, 2017.
4 Italian elections: What is the Five Star Movement? The Week Mar. 5, 2018.
5 Follain J. Why the League Is New Bane of Italy’s Establishment. Bloomberg Oct. 1, 2018.
6 Italy’s Populist Coalition: What You Should Know. BBC News June 1, 2018.
7 Fisher BL. Children in Italy Now Can Attend School Without Proof of Vaccination. The Vaccine Reaction July 6, 2018.
8 Italy Does A U-Turn On Compulsory Vaccine Law… Again. The Local It Sept. 6, 2018.
10 Giuffrida A. Italy May Scrap Vaccine Certificates For Young Children. The Guardian Apr. 1, 2018.