On the heels of a similar Italian mandate in May, France is the latest country in Europe to make vaccines mandatory. French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that “all vaccines unanimously recommended by health authorities will become mandatory.” At a time when cases of deadly — and preventable — diseases are on the rise across Europe and in America, some governments are taking the option of whether to vaccinate out of the equation.
In March, the World Health Organization issued a warning about climbing numbers of reported measles cases. More than 2,500 cases of the disease have been recorded in Italy this year. Europe as a whole saw 500 cases in January alone. Measles is one of the world’s leading causes of death for young children; 134,200 people died from the disease in 2015.
Yet vaccines are still at the center of a hot debate between those who think they’re necessary for public health and those who think they should be a parent’s personal choice. Rumors that vaccines are linked to autism refuse to die, despite study after study after study disproving that claim, which is based on a fabricated study published in 1998. The doctor who wrote the study was exposed as a fraud and lost his license to practice medicine.
Making vaccinations mandatory will allow levels of immunization to reach a point where herd immunity can kick in. Not every person is eligible for vaccines (those with vaccine allergies, newborns, and those with compromised immune systems from chemotherapy are a few examples). The vulnerable members of society rely on the rest of us to be immune to these highly contagious diseases so that they do not spread. With an increasing number of parents opting not to vaccinate their children (or doing so on a modified schedule), more people are susceptible to otherwise preventable diseases.
“When you see a fraying of community immunity, the contagious diseases are the ones that … start to come back,” Dr. Paul Offrit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Huffington Post. “And the number one disease that is the canary in the coal mine is the measles.”
Outbreaks of measles and other illness preventable with vaccines continue worldwide, including in the United States, where only some states have vaccine mandates for certain diseases for school-aged children. President Donald Trump has voiced his support for vaccine skeptics, fueling the fire behind those who want vaccines to remain a personal choice.