Edition 30 September, by Juan Álvarez Umbarila
An initiative bill has been proposed in parliament that would allow childcare organizations to refuse unvaccinated children access to their daycare centers. This initiative, led by D66 Member of Parliament Rens Raemakers, is a government response to the alarming rise in the number of children left unvaccinated in The Netherlands.
The declining in the number of children vaccinated against major diseases such as measles, diphtheria and whooping cough, is a growing problem globally. This is especially the case in highly educated countries, where vaccines are affordable or free and readily available. Over the past few years, groups of “anti-vaxxers” have been growing. Their reasons for not vaccinating children vary from medical and religious, to the idea that vaccines cause autism, contain harmful ingredients, or are unnecessary for children with healthy immune systems. Although the World Health Organization deems vaccines safe, and states that no substantial medical evidence has been found against them, the anti-vaccination movement seems to be gaining more momentum as time goes by.
The Netherlands is not an exception. There has been a consistent decrease in the percentage of vaccinated children over the past five years. According to the National Institute for Health and Environment (RIVM), the number of fully vaccinated two-yearolds in 2017 was 90,2% compared to over 91% the year before. This has caused alarm with the government, given that in order to achieve collective group immunity (the necessary percentage of vaccinated people which ensures that vulnerable individuals are protected) 95% of the population should be vaccinated for most diseases. Although the majority of Parliament seems supportive of the D66 initiative, there is still discussion about the possible extent of state involvement in the vaccination issue. While some argue that vaccinating children should be mandatory, as in some other European countries, others, like the Public Health Secretary of State for the ChristenUnie Paul Blokhuis, warn that enforcing vaccination could potentially violate fundamental rights of privacy and freedom of religion. If vaccines were enforced, medical records of individuals would have to become partially public in order to determine who is and who is not vaccinated. An initiative to enforce vaccination by former VVD Minister of Health Edith Schippers was already sunk for that reason. The legal discussion in Parliament regarding the involvement of the state in vaccination is a matter that affects both the private sphere, regarding what parents deem better for their own children; and public health, because that private decision may ultimately affect society as a whole. In this scenario, a clash would occur between the right to privacy of medical records and the right to a safe environment in public health.
Rens Raemakers’ initiative argues that it does not violate fundamental rights, because it does not make vaccinating an obligation; rather, it gives childcare organizations the right to refuse unvaccinated children whose parents cannot provide a vaccination certificate when asked for it. The initiative operates on the logic that, since sending children to daycare is not mandatory, “parents with a different philosophy of life can still choose whether they want to vaccinate their children.” This means that these parents may choose not to vaccinate their children, and childcare organizations may choose not to accept them. Thus, parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated, and may be infected by non-vaccinated kids, may feel at ease in childcare institutions. Whether Raemakers’ initiative finds much legal resistance remains to be seen. In the meantime, Blokhuis will structure a plan to increase vaccination coverage for children in The Netherlands, to be presented this autumn. In addition to legal measures, public information and education will have a decisive role to play in this matter.