In a rather sinister move, 2017 sees more and more EU member states transitioning to mandatory, rather than voluntary, vaccination (see Table 1 below) schedules for children. In tandem, there are more and more punitive measures being issued to parents who choose to not vaccinate their kids.

Parallel to this is the growing awareness of the potential health risks associated with vaccination and a demand for properly informed consent. Freedom of choice is, after all, one of our basic human rights. When it comes to vaccines, the European Forum for Vaccine Vigilance (EFVV) has been campaigning to inform the general public, politicians and the press about vaccines and the vaccination procedure in terms of its health benefits and risks since 1998. Its annual conference in Hainburg, Austria, last weekend, focused solely on the subject of mandatory vaccination and its implications.

One message – a right to freedom

Melissa Smith, on behalf of ANH-Intl, joined representatives from 15 European countries as part of the EFVV annual meeting to discuss how best to respond to the removal of parental rights over vaccine choice and consent for their children. Recognition that there needs to be a full and proper debate on the issues surrounding vaccination, parental choice and informed consent was at the core of the weekend’s meeting.

Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 18, everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Article 19 provides for the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Increasingly these rights don’t seem to include opinions on vaccination unless they toe the official line. Those who doubt, or choose differently, are usually left with a weight of social censorship.

Article 3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union states clearly: ‘Free and informed consent must be respected in the fields of medicine and biology’. EFVV estimates approximately 40% of EU citizens do not have this basic right when faced with a medical intervention such as vaccination.

Parents – and some doctors – know best

Parents the world over have been caring for their offspring since time immemorial. Parents today are no different in feeling that they are best placed to make decisions about their child’s healthcare due to their unique knowledge of their family history — and let’s not deny the power of a mother’s innate intuition. The question of whether governments and health authorities should have the right to override parental choice when it comes to medical interventions —particularly where those decisions are driven by commercial interests — was central to the meeting.

However, it’s not just parents who are finding themselves in trouble. In many countries, doctors are being prosecuted for supporting those opposed to mandatory vaccination. Stricter requirements are being imposed on children at school in Italy. Children could be kicked out of nursery and parents are being fined if children remain unvaccinated.

It is now common to label anyone who chooses not to vaccinate either themselves or their children as ‘anti-vax’. But, what the people choosing to use this term seem not to understand is that a lot of those so called ‘anti-vaxxers’ are in fact parents who were pro-vaccine and allowed their children to be vaccinated. Their stance only changed after witnessing their child suffer serious adverse reactions to one or more vaccines.

The right to choose

As part of its ongoing strategy, EFVV will be developing resources to give parents information on promoting natural health to develop natural immunity, as a best preventative defence. This outreach initiative, which ANH-Intl will be supporting, will be translated into the languages of the 25+ EFVV member countries to support parents across Europe.

Table 1: European countries mandating vaccination

Country Mandatory status Vaccination Policy
Austria X Childhood vaccination is strongly recommended, but not mandatory.
Vaccination is mandatory for healthcare workers
Belgium Y The ONE (Office de la Naissance et de l’Enfance, Belgian National Bureau for Childbirth and Childhood governing French-speaking Belgium) requires vaccinations for entry to all of its registered French-speaking nurseries and childcare centres. Flemish speaking day care centre and nurseries only require Polio vaccine.
    Hep B is mandatory for healthcare workers
Bulgaria X Seven mandatory vaccines 
Croatia Y Ten mandatory vaccines. Parents can be fined if they choose not to vaccinate.
Cyprus X No mandatory vaccines
Czech Republic Y Nine mandatory vaccines.
Denmark X No mandatory vaccines
Estonia X No mandatory vaccines
Finland X No mandatory vaccination
France Y Currently three mandatory vaccines. This will probably rise to eleven in 2018.
Germany X No mandatory vaccination. However, parents are required to have a consultation with their doctor and have to produce a certificate to show that this has been done for their child to be allowed entry to kindergarten.
Greece X No mandatory vaccination
Hungary Y Eleven mandatory vaccines. Parents of children who choose not to vaccinate may be fined. Children who are unvaccinated can be removed from parental care.
Ireland X No mandatory vaccination
Italy Y Ten mandatory vaccines since August 2017
Lithuania X No mandatory vaccination, however children cannot attend kindergarten if they are unvaccinated.
Luxembourg X No mandatory vaccination
Malta X No mandatory vaccination
Netherlands X No mandatory vaccination
Norway X No mandatory vaccination
Poland Y Ten mandatory vaccines
Portugal X No mandatory vaccination
Romania X No mandatory vaccination
Serbia Y Ten mandatory vaccines. Parents who choose not to vaccinate can be fined for each refusal.
Slovakia Y Ten mandatory vaccines
Slovenia Y Nine mandatory vaccines
Spain X No mandatory vaccination
Switzerland X No mandatory vaccination
United Kingdom X No mandatory vaccination

What can you do?

  • Share information and educate each other. By becoming informed, you will find it easier to make informed choices and challenge the imposition of mandatory vaccination
  • Sign the EFVV petition calling for health authorities and governments throughout the EU to ‘Respect, promote and protect freedom of informed vaccination consent throughout Europe’
  • Share both petitions as widely as you can.