Written by Crispin Yeung, CNN
Austria plans to go after the parents of unvaccinated children who refuse to provide proof of immunization against a slew of deadly diseases.
Though the measures won’t be compulsory, as they currently are in several countries, state health officials are taking all measures necessary to limit the spread of preventable diseases in Vienna, including some not normally registered in Austria.
Austria’s medical board
Starting March 9, health care professionals in the Austrian capital will be able to refuse to treat children whose parents have not provided vaccination records. Furthermore, from March 15 and June 5, doctors will be able to refuse to treat children who remain unvaccinated up to their 12th birthday without fear of being sanctioned.
Vaccination for the various conditions listed in the law will be considered an inoculation against the virus, regardless of when it was received, the health board said in a statement.
However, it’s too early to tell whether the measures will actually contribute to ending the fall vaccination season, health experts in Austria told CNN. “Generally, this kind of action by the government is rare and a very drastic measure,” said Johanna Zeerwald, a child protection and epidemiology expert at the University of Innsbruck.
However, the law, which also applies to Austria’s border regions, is designed to make keeping the city free of the contagious diseases like measles “a natural event,” with a slight risk, Zeerwald said.
In addition to those who stay unvaccinated, Austria is concerned about children whose parents fall into the categories of unvaccinated, unvaccinated pregnant women, Jehovah’s Witnesses and religiously motivated people who don’t believe in vaccinations, according to a press release issued Friday by the Austrian Ministry of Health.
Austria has faced a measles epidemic recently. Nearly 700 measles cases were reported in the country in 2017, and another 160 cases have been reported this year, according to the Health Ministry. According to state officials, one of the reasons the population continues to have a problem with the virus is that many unvaccinated people aren’t as aware of the symptoms.
Measles is highly contagious and spreads by respiratory droplets, according to the World Health Organization.
Those who haven’t been vaccinated can still contract measles, but the symptoms are milder than the real thing. However, according to WHO, measles can lead to pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, encephalitis, seizures, blindness, deafness, death, deafness and other serious complications, especially in children.
“It’s very important that unvaccinated people understand that the illness that they experience has a wide range of deadly consequences,” Peter Daunert, national immunization officer at WHO, told CNN last year.
And the consequences can be devastating. A 13-year-old boy with measles recently died from complications in Norway, according to Norway’s VKV Society for Vaccination and Information. The boy was a second-year student at a private school who had not received the measles vaccine, according to the center.
The killing of a 2-year-old girl in the Czech Republic last month has also made headlines. On February 10, she died of pneumonia caused by the spread of measles. The hospital where she was being treated then shut down all its free clinics to prevent more measles cases. The girl was not vaccinated.
Since 2000, at least 136 children have died of measles in Europe, including the Czech Republic, according to WHO. In 2015, Romania reported the highest number of measles cases in the region, with more than 19,000 cases. But Hungary and Austria have also been hard hit by measles outbreaks this year.