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German Parents Who Don't Vaccinate Their Kids Face Steep Fine

by Keiko Zoll

Since January, Germany has seen nearly 600 cases of measles, resulting in the death of a 37-year-old mother of three in the city of Essen last week, according to German newspaper Deutsche Welle. On Thursday, Germany's parliament will vote on a new bill that would require kindergartens and other childcare centers to report parents who haven't vaccinated their kids. German parents who don't vaccinate their kids already face a fine of 2,500 euros — which converts to about $2,800 — but only if they are reported to health authorities: It's been up to individual childcare centers and kindergartens to make such reports.

The new law would require kindergartens to report the parents of any unvaccinated children, effectively levying every Germany parent who doesn't vaccinate their child with the hefty fine. The move comes just two years after a massive 2015 measles outbreak in Germany that claimed the life of an 18-month-old toddler boy, and the nation's worst in nearly 20 years. Health Minister Hermann Gröhe put forth the bill into the country's parliament, telling German tabloid Bild, "The fact that people are still dying of measles cannot be a matter of indifference to anyone. That is why we are tightening the regulations on immunization."

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Germany's decision to fine parents for not vaccinating their children echoes an ongoing effort by the international health community to eradicate entirely preventable diseases such as rubella, polio, diphtheria, and pertussis. Due to vaccine gaps, measles has become endemic in 14 European nations according to the World Health Organization, where the largest and worst measles outbreaks this year have been in Italy and Romania.

On May 19, Italy voted to mandate vaccinations for children up to age 6 and before they can enter nursery school; parents that fail to vaccinate their children, like Germany, also face fines. Unlike Germany however, parents who don't vaccinate their children in the United States don't face fines, as no state has laws issuing fines to parents of unvaccinated kids. But if Germany and Italy seem strict when it comes to compulsory vaccinations, parents who don't vaccinate their kids can face jail time — up to six months — in Uganda.

Despite the overwhelming evidence about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, it stands to reason that global vaccination rates should be as close to 100 percent as possible, especially in developed countries such as Germany, Italy, and the United States. Vaccinations enable herd immunity, making vaccines most important to the people who can't get them — such as people who may have certain allergies or reactions to vaccines, or babies and children who may be too young to get vaccinated.

Hopefully, Germany's drastic move will encourage more parents to do the right thing for the benefit of their own communities, and get their kids vaccinated pronto.