France will declare 11 essential vaccines mandatory as of 2018, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced last week, and penalize parents who opt out. Invoking the rising tide of measles in Europe and the enduring image of the French father of vaccines Louis Pasteur, Philippe vowed to crack down on anti-vaxxers. “Children are still dying of measles,” Philippe said in a press conference. “In the homeland of Pasteur that is not admissible.
France already considers vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis mandatory. The new legislation will add the vaccines for polio, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae bacteria, pneumococcus, and meningococcus C to the list.
There is no evidence—none—that vaccines cause autism. And no scientific reason to be wary of vaccines. Whatever minor risks vaccines carry pale in comparison to the estimated 10 million lives that they saved between 2010 and 2015, alone. Vaccinating kids should be the most straightforward decision a parent makes. And yet, a recent survey of French citizens found that 30 percent don’t trust vaccines and barely half think the benefits outweigh the risks.
Perhaps no country has felt the effects of vaccine skepticism more acutely than France, where there were 79 cases of measles reported in the first two months of 2017. Since 2008, France has seen more than 24,000 measles cases—1,500 serious complications and 10 deaths.
To stem the tide of anti-vaccine sentiment, Italy has declared 12 essential vaccinations mandatory, Australia has offered to pay parents for every vaccinated child, and Slovenia has started issuing fines to parents who fail to keep up with the recommended vaccine schedule. Perhaps not surprisingly, 95 percent of Slovenian parents now vaccinate their kids.
Agnes Buzyn, the French Minister of Health, recognizes that the decision to vaccinate is less about freedom for parents to choose and more about protecting children and ensuring public health. “I hate coercion, it is not in my temperament. But there is an urgency,” she told Le Parisien back in June, when officials were seriously considering the legislation.
“There are times when obligation is a good thing to allow society to evolve.”