German parents who fail to vaccinate their children against measles could face fines of up to €2,500 ($2,800), as part of draft legislation from the country’s health minister.
“I want to eradicate measles,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag on Sunday, according to a transcript of the interview published by the Health Ministry. “Anyone going to a kindergarten or school should be vaccinated against measle.”
The proposal comes as Germany reported one of the highest numbers of measles cases in Europe between March 2018 and February this year, at 651, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). Topping the list was Italy, with 2,498 reported cases.
The latest proposal comes amid a resurgence of the disease across the globe — ranging from high-income countries in the Americas and Europe to low- and middle-income countries in Asia and Africa — fueled in part by fear of and lack of access to vaccines, and complacency. A UNICEF study published last week found measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, mostly children. That’s up 22% from the year before. The report concluded that the rise is due to 20 million children a year missing the first dose of the measles vaccine.
Germany is not the first place to propose fines for unvaccinated children. Last month, New York City declared that those who live in the neighborhoods where there is an ongoing outbreak and who had not received their vaccination or did not have evidence of immunity, could be fined $1,000.
The crackdown was in response to a measles outbreak affecting the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Williamsburg, and unvaccinated people living in select ZIP codes will now be required to receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR, to curtail the outbreak and protect others.
It takes two doses of the vaccine to protect children from measles. While 97% of German children had their first dose, this dropped to 93% for the second dose, the World Health Organization said for 2017. Experts say there must be at least 95% vaccination to make communities immune to the disease.
Among high-income countries, the United States topped the list of children not vaccinated with the first dose, according to the WHO, with measles cases reaching their highest number since the disease was declared eliminated there in 2000. Experts blame the rise on misinformation about the virus and the vaccine that has led some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.
Spahn’s proposal comes just days after the UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said anti-vaccination campaigners were “morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible” and had “blood on their hands,”in an interview with The Times.