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Germany moves to improve child vaccination rate

A draft bill to come before the German parliament envisages daycare centers reporting parents who do not seek medical advice on vaccinating their children. The move comes amid a measles epidemic.

Germany is seeking to put more pressure on parents to seek medical advice on vaccinating their children in a bid to increase vaccination rates, as the country sees a growing number of measles cases.

A bill put forward by Health Minister Hermann Gröhe proposes obliging childcare centers and kindergartens to report parents who fail to have such a consultation to health authorities. The bill is to come before parliament, the Bundestag, on Thursday.

"The fact that people are still dying of measles cannot be a matter of indifference to anyone," Gröhe told the Germany tabloid Bild. "That is why we are tightening the regulations on immunization."

The German upper house, or Bundesrat, has voiced some criticism of the draft bill, saying that it could damage the trust between parents and childcare facilities.

Montage Masern Virus (Courtesy of C. S. Goldsmith; William Bellini, Ph.D./CDC/dpa/Montage: DW)

Vaccination is the best protection against measles, a potentially fatal illness

Growing epidemic

The move comes as the number of measles cases in Germany skyrockets, with  583 cases reported up to the end of April, compared with 325 for the whole of last year.

Many of these have occurred in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where authorities have reported 381 cases up to mid-May, compared with just 28 for the entire year of 2016.

The state also saw its first fatality from the disease for this year when a 37-year-old woman died of measles this week in the city of Essen.

Read:  Vaccine gaps 'cause measles outbreaks' in Europe

No mandatory vaccination

Since 2015, parents in Germany must present proof that they have received medical vaccination advice to childcare centers, but the center is not allowed to refuse a child a place if they have not done so, as parents have a legal right to one.

Up to now, it is up to the childcare centers to decide whether to report those parents without proof of a consultation to health authorities. Refusing to receive the consultation is punishable under German law by a fine of up to 2,500 euros.

But unlike some other countries, such as Italy, Germany has not made it mandatory for children to receive certain vaccinations before being accepted by childcare centers, although many doctors and parties such as the FDP have called for such a law.

Many parents do not vaccinate their children against measles because of fears engendered by theories, long discredited by medical experts, that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine could cause autism.

Read: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?

tj/jm (epd, AFP, Reuters)

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