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Infant death sparks measles jab debate

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Will compulsory vaccination be necessary? Photo: DPA
12:34 CET+01:00
Scientists and politicians are debating whether to introduce compulsory vaccinations following the recent measles outbreak in Berlin, which has lead to the death of an infant and the closure of a school.

News of the death of an 18 month-old infant in Berlin on Monday sparked an immediate vigorous debate.

Franz Ulrich Montgomery, president of the German Medial Association, told Ruhr Nachrichten on Tuesday that "this tragic death should be sufficient reason to introduce compulsory vaccination against measles". 

But Health Minister Hermann Gröhe said that closing the 'vaccination gap' should first involve greater effort from doctors, nurseries, schools and everyone else with responsibility for children.

"If that can't be managed, compulsory vaccinations are not a taboo subject - although they won't come right away", he said.

Jürgen Graalmann, head of Germany's largest medical insurance provider AOK-Bundesverband, called on parents to get their children vaccinated.

"When the lives of children, who are unable to decide for themselves, are at stake, we should stop discussing it and stick to what the science tells us", Graalmann told the Rheinischer Post on Tuesday.

But microbiology expert Professor Uwe Groß of the University of Göttingen argued that education was the best way to achieve mass immunity.

"The risks of possible side effects of the vaccination must be counterbalanced by the risks of an infection," he told Tagesschau news.

"I recommend vaccination because an infection brings much higher risks."

Berlin is currently experiencing the worst wave of measles since it became compulsory to register children's vaccinations. 
The child in question had not been vaccinated against the virus. 

Berlin health senator Mario Czaja said on Monday that the child had died in hospital on February 18th, although the Charité hospital said later that evening that it had not yet conclusively determined the cause of death.

The latest measles outbreak has spread among communities which have missed vaccinations for other reasons, such as refugees from conflict zones in the Balkans.
 
Statistics show that only two in every 1000 patients die from a measles infection.

But the number of cases has rocketed recently in Berlin, with 447 already reported so far this year in the capital.

Politicians slam scare-mongering

While most of those currently suffering from measles went without vaccinations involuntarily, some oppose vaccinating their children in hope of protecting them from supposed side effects such as autoimmune disease, diabetes and meningitis.

Links between vaccinations and those conditions have repeatedly been debunked. 

But some also see measles as a natural virus that actually strengthens the immune system.

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Anti-vaccination parents have received widespread criticism from both politicians and medical experts.  

Herman Gröhe denounced the "irrational scare-mongering of certain opponents to vaccination" as "irresponsible".

"There are far too many doctors who cast doubt on measles vaccinations, and therefore make parents unsure", said Karl Lauterbach, deputy SPD (Social Democratic Party) leader in the Bundestag and himself a medical doctor.

by Matty Edwards

SEE ALSO: Measles kill toddler as Berlin school closes

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