Measles is an unpleasant, dangerous disease. Until recently, it was kept under control by high vaccination rates that resulted in herd immunity. But online misinformation about adverse health effects and laws allowing parents to opt their kids out of vaccination for “personal beliefs” have led to skyrocketing measles rates in countries around the world. Now, one official is proposing a national fine on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn wants to levy fines of up to €2,500, or almost $2,800, on parents who don’t vaccinate their kids, with obvious exceptions for parents of kids who are too young to be vaccinated or who, for medical reasons, cannot safely be vaccinated. These two groups are among those most at risk when herd immunity disappears, as their chances of encountering the disease go up substantially when that happens.
In an interview with the Bild am Sonntag newspaper published on Sunday, Spahn called vaccinations a “social responsibility.”
“We have been having this debate every few months over the past 10, 20 years,” Spahn said. “Whenever there is an outbreak and children or students have to be kept away from lessons, everyone says we could, we should do something — but not enough happens.”
Germany has seen 300 cases of measles already this year, putting it on pace to surpass last year’s over 500 cases by a wide margin. Outbreaks this year in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and North Rhine-Westphalia centered on schools, so focusing there to stop the outbreaks is a logical step.
The bill as it’s written would not allow children to enter school without proof they’d received their measles vaccine. But under German law, school attendance is mandated starting at age 6. That means that anti-vaxxer parents, caught between the two laws, would face fines.
Spahn added that public information campaigns have not been enough to eradicate measles. A national health agency in the country found that only 93 percent of first graders had vaccine-caused immunity to measles in 2017, below the 95 percent threshold the World Health Organization deems necessary to inoculate a population against the virus.
Spahn joins New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in calling for anti-vax parents to face fines. De Blasio announced last month that such parents in zip codes where measles outbreaks are happening could face fines of up to $1,000.