Proof of Children’s Vaccinations? Italy Will Now Take Parents’ Word for It

Dr. Roberto Ieraci vaccinating a child in Rome this year. Vaccination rates in Italy and elsewhere in Europe are lower than in the United States.

ROME — Italian parents will no longer have to provide state-run schools with a doctor’s note to show that their children have been vaccinated, the country’s new populist government announced on Thursday — a move that raised alarm among experts who fear that compliance with vaccines will drop.

The new rule, announced at a news conference by Giulia Grillo, Italy’s health minister and a prominent member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, requires only the assurance of parents that their children are immunized to enroll in school this September.

The government said its aim was to simplify enrollment procedures and enable school participation for all, including children whose parents do not have their paperwork in order yet.

“We want to spur school inclusion and simplify rules for parents,” Ms. Grillo said.

But critics of the move say the Italian government is eroding faith in science and public norms.

“Weakening a law that works, that Italians are respecting and is doing some good to children and to the health system is a self-destructive strategy,” said Roberto Burioni, a virologist at San Raffaele University in Milan.

Since last year, Italian schoolchildren have been required to have 10 vaccinations. They are offered free to children, said Mr. Burioni, an online campaigner who spreads scientific information on vaccines.

But vaccination rates in Italy and elsewhere in Europe are lower than in the United States. Last year, Germany cracked down on parents who refused to vaccinate their babies before enrolling them in kindergarten, and France introduced fines against noncompliant parents.

Mr. Burioni noted that in Italy, a doctor-signed certificate of good health is required even for people wanting to take swimming classes.

“And if I die while I swim, I am not hurting anyone else,” he said. “Here, we are here trusting people on something that does hurt everyone else.”

Leading up to the elections this March, the two parties that now run Italy — the Five Star Movement and the far-right League — repeatedly expressed skepticism about the benefits of vaccines. Their program for government includes plans to revise a 2017 law that made 10 vaccines mandatory for Italian schoolchildren.

The law was introduced to raise the country’s immunization coverage after a measles outbreak in Europe that year with more than 14,000 cases. Italy, with over 4,500 instances, was second only to Romania in the number of cases.

The Five Star Movement says it wants the highest possible level of immunizations, but it has also long advocated overhauling the law, which it considers too restrictive. In 2015, the group proposed a law to limit vaccinations, which it considers linked to cancer, leukemia, allergies, inflammation and autism, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

Beppe Grillo, a comedian who was a founder of the Five Star Movement, argued in his comedy shows several years ago that vaccines should not be compulsory and that the inoculation of viruses can be dangerous.

The League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, has also often said that 10 vaccines are “too many” and that the choice over whether to vaccinate children should be left to parents.

“Vaccination yes, obligation no,” he said at a rally last week.

“We need to be safe from measles, but other vaccines seem to me absolutely superfluous,” Mr. Salvini said, adding that he had his own children vaccinated.

Asked by reporters how the government would provide education to children who have autoimmune conditions or who are undergoing lifesaving therapies, who would be unable to attend school unless every child in their class was vaccinated, Education Minister Marco Bussetti, also from the League, replied, “Surely they won’t be abandoned.”

It was unclear how the government would ensure that parents were telling the truth about their children’s vaccinations on school enrollment forms.

For her part, Ms. Grillo announced at Thursday’s news conference that she was expecting a baby.

“Once he is born,” she said, “I’ll vaccinate him exactly like all the other Italian citizens.”

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