Measles death prompts calls for mandatory vaccination
Berlin - Germany - The Guardian

Measles death prompts calls for mandatory vaccination

Death of 18-month-old boy is the first fatality among 574 reported cases in the country’s worst measles outbreak in more than a decade.

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A senior German health official has called for mandatory measles vaccinations after an 18-month-old boy died of the disease amid the country’s worst outbreak in more than a decade.

The Berlin health minister, Mario Czaja, confirmed on Monday that the child – who had not been immunised against measles – died in hospital on Wednesday, the first fatality among 574 cases reported since the outbreak began in October.

The death has intensified a debate in Germany over whether parents should be forced to have their children immunised. Czaja said: “This case shows that measles is a very serious disease. I am in favour of mandatory vaccination.”

Several German politicians have called for a concerted cross-party campaign to encourage vaccinations. “If that doesn’t work, mandatory vaccination for infants should be the next step,” Karl Lauterbach, parliamentary leader for the Social Democrats, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday.

The German health minister, Hermann Gröhe, was also critical of those opposing vaccination. “The irrational fearmongering of some vaccination opponents is irresponsible,” he said. “Anyone who refuses their child protection endangers not only their own child but others as well.”

Germany’s anti-vaccination movement mirrors similar groups in the US and UK, which are also fuelled by discredited theories linking the vaccine with autism.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls measles, a virus that lives in the nose and throat, the “most deadly of all childhood rash/fever illnesses”, and doctors strongly urge vaccination as the best way to prevent infection.

In Germany, local media have reported that some parents are taking their children to “measles parties” – where healthy children are exposed to infected children to stimulate natural immunisation – instead of taking them to be vaccinated. The practice, first popularised in the United States as “pox parties”, has been condemned by medical authorities.

Announcing the boy’s death, Czaja added that everyone who had come in contact with the child had been examined.

One school was closed for a day when a pupil came down with the disease. More measles cases have been reported in the German states of Brandenburg, Saxony, Lower Saxony and Bavaria.

Nevertheless, the health ministry on Monday confirmed there were currently no plans to introduce mandatory vaccination, despite the severity of the outbreak – the worst since the introduction of mandatory reporting of measles cases in 2001. “At the moment we are relying on vaccination advice before entry into kindergarten, and the assessment of immunisation protection during medical check-ups,” a ministry spokesperson said.

Both major opposition parties – the Greens and the socialist Die Linke – pointed out the potential legal problems with mandatory vaccination. Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Die Linke’s Berlin health spokesman, Wolfgang Albers, said mandatory vaccination raised the prospect of officials administering injections by force if parents flatly refused to comply.

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