Starting in 2018, parents in France will be required to vaccinate their children under a new government health policy announced by French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
Vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, and polio are already mandatory in France, but the new policy will add eight more to that list: measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenzae bacteria, pneumococcus, and meningococcus C. Some of these vaccines are currently recommended, but not required; Philippe said all childhood immunizations that are unanimously recommended by health authorities will be mandatory starting next year.
Philippe, who serves as prime minister under newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron, dropped a bit of history during his announcement, citing Louis Pasteur, the French biologist who pioneered lab-manufactured vaccines in the 19th century. "Children are still dying of measles. In the homeland of Pasteur, that is not admissible," he said on Tuesday according to Le Figaro.
The new mandate can't come soon enough. In the first two months of 2017 alone, there were 79 cases of measles reported in France—mainly in the northeastern Lorraine region, which saw an outbreak of 50 cases, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. And from 2008 to 2016, France had more than 24,000 cases of measles, 1,500 of which had serious complications, including 10 deaths, according to The Independent.
The Italian government instituted a similar policy in May, requiring parents to vaccinate their children against 12 common illnesses; if they're not, parents are fined and children are banned from state schools. In his announcement, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni cited the "spread of anti-scientific theories" as reason behind a decrease in vaccinations.
With any luck, the UK will be next to make childhood vaccinations mandatory. With 24,000 children not being immunized against measles, mumps, and rubella (the MMR vaccine) each year, the British Medical Association is urging the UK government to consider "the potential advantages and disadvantages of childhood immunization made mandatory under the law."
Really, though; national mandates like the ones in Italy and France are necessary to stop the spread of diseases for which we have vaccines. Currently, across France, Britain, United States, and elsewhere in the West, the vaccination rate for measles is below the 95 percent level that stops its spread, according to The Economist. (That's the threshold for herd immunity, or protection of an entire community.) Those stats concern health professionals across the board, and, frankly, they're unacceptable. So hats off to Italy and France; let's hope the rest of the world gets their shit together.