Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against measles in Germany could be punished with fines of up to €2,500 (£2,130), according to a draft law presented by the health minister, Jens Spahn.
The law, which is set to come into effect from 1 March 2022 if it passes through parliament before the end of this year, would make vaccination against measles mandatory for all children attending nurseries and schools, as well as teachers, educators and medical staff at hospitals and surgeries.By July 2020, parents signing up their children for kindergartens or schools would need to either provide evidence that their children have been vaccinated or proof of a medical condition that prevents their offspring from getting the jab.
According to estimates by the health ministry, the law would also affect about 361,000 non-vaccinated children already attending a school or kindergarten, as well as about 220,000 adults.
“All parents should be safe in the knowledge that their children cannot be infected with and endangered by measles,” Spahn said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
Governments worldwide have in recent months been forced into action by a rise in the number of measles cases and a growing trend towards “vaccination hesitancy”, driven partly by anti-vaccination scare campaigns. Germany’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, recorded 170 new cases of measles in the first two months of 2019 alone.
The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) is a particular focus of the “anti-vaxxer” movement. In 1998, the discredited physician Andrew Wakefield published fraudulent research in the Lancet that suggested the vaccine had a role in causing autism.
Measles can cause debilitating or fatal complications, including encephalitis, pneumonia, and permanent vision loss, to which babies and young children with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable.In Germany, coverage with the first dose of the measles vaccine has in recent years stalled at 93%, short of the 95% coverage the World Health Organization states is required to prevent mass outbreaks. In 2017, only the two formerly East German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg met the WHO’s “herd immunisation” requirement, with only 89% coverage in Baden-Württemberg in the wealthy south-west of the country.
“I want to wipe out measles,” said Spahn, a former candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, hailing vaccinations as “one of humanity’s greatest achievements”.
The minister’s initiative was praised by members of the Social Democratic Union, the junior coalition partner in Germany’s “grand coalition” government. “Individual freedom finds its limits where it endangers the health of others,” said the SPD leader, Andrea Nahles, who signalled her party’s support for the draft law. “That’s why I consider it important to make vaccination against infectious diseases like measles mandatory.”
Some Green party politicians have voiced reservations about the proposals, arguing that mandatory vaccination would be more likely to increase distrust among sceptics. “Spahn should focus on convincing people … instead of coercing them,” the Green politician Kordula Schulz-Asche told Tagesspiegel newspaper.