Under EU guidance, France is seeking to expand its compulsory vaccines’ list, a move that will most likely be mirrored by Germany and Italy.
In Europe, vaccines are rightfully considered public health issues. The objective is to protect the population from several diseases – either bacterial illnesses or viruses. Thanks to large vaccination campaigns, diseases such as polio and smallpox were eradicated in 2002 and 1980 respectively. This is why the European Union encourages its members to maintain – if not increase – their vaccination rates. This policy has lead to calls to protect the “vulnerable population” against the seasonal flu with preventive shots and a wider range of vaccines for the young.
France has taken theses instructions very seriously. A bill tabled by health minister Agnès Buzyn aims at adding, from January 1st 2018 on, 8 new compulsory vaccines for children under 2 years old to the already existing three. To this day, only the vaccines against diphtheria (since 1938), tetanus (1940) and poliomyelitis (1964) are on the list. The newcomers would be pertussis, measles, meningococcus C, pneumococcus and the Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, which is responsible for pneumopathies and meningitis.
According the French health minister, “the 15% of children (who are not vaccinated) are a threat to the other’s health” as they help “epidemics from the past to re-emerge.”
In France, parents who plan on ignoring this new legal imperative face a tough sentence: six months’ imprisonment or €3750 fine according to article L.3116-4 of the French Public Health Code. If, by refusing the vaccine, they put their child’s health in risk (“to the extent it could compromise the child’s health, security, morality or education”) they are liable to a further two years in jail or a €30.000 fine (article 227-17).
The minister is currently working on an “opt-out” status for families who are staunchly anti-vaccine. This is a rather exceptional move at a time when European countries have taken a strong line against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. Germany, for instance, in currently working on a bill to enforce a €7.500 fine for parents refusing to give their children shots against measles, while Italy wants to penalise families who refuse any of its 12 compulsory vaccines.