The French government is taking a stance to bolster vaccinations.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced in an address to the French Parliament that vaccines unanimously recommended by health authorities will become mandatory starting next year, Newsweek reports.
Vaccinations have been at the center of a tense debate over the years. While many parents believe them to be a personal choice, others see it as a public health crisis when children aren’t vaccinated.
“Children are still dying of measles,” Philippe said in his speech, according to Newsweek. “In the homeland of [Louis] Pasteur that is not admissible,” he added, referring to the French chemist who was a pioneer in vaccine use.
The World Health Organization issued a warning in March about the growing measles epidemic in Europe. In January alone, over 500 measles cases were reported across the region.
Measles is a leading cause of death for young children, and worldwide 134,200 people perished from the disease in 2015, according to WHO.
After steady progress toward eliminating the disease, “it is of particular concern that measles cases are climbing in Europe,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO’s regional director for the continent, said in the press release. “Today’s travel patterns put no person or country beyond the reach of the measles virus. Outbreaks will continue in Europe, as elsewhere, until every country reaches the level of immunization needed to fully protect their populations.”
Although the policies for mandatory vaccinations cover a wide range of contagious diseases, the measles epidemic has been at the forefront of the conversation.
“When you see a fraying of community immunity, the contagious diseases are the ones that ... start to come back,” Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told HuffPost. “And the number one disease that is the canary in the coal mine is the measles.”
Although numerous studies have shown that vaccines are safe and effective, many parents still believe a fabricated study published in 1998 that claimed vaccines caused autism. Concerns persist even though the doctor behind the fake study, Andrew Wakefield, was exposed and lost his license.
A 2016 study showed that 41 percent of French citizens disagreed with the idea that vaccines were safe.
“It’s not OK that France experiences the level of outbreaks that it does,” said Offit, who worked on the team that developed the rotavirus vaccination for over 20 years. “Begging the question, is it your inalienable right as a French citizen to allow your child to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection?”
Although the United States does not have a federal mandate on vaccinations, most states have imposed vaccination requirements for measles, mumps and rubella for school-aged children.