Italy’s health minister has sacked the entire board of the Higher HealthCouncil, the country’s most important committee of technical-scientific experts who advise the government on health policy.
In a move on Monday night that shocked Italian scientists, Giulia Grillo, from the Five Star Movement – a vaccine-sceptic party that has supported unproven cures for cancer – said it was “time to give space to the new”.
“We are the #governmentofchange and, as I have already done with the appointments of the various organs and committees of the ministry, I have chosen to open the door to other deserving personalities,” she wrote on Facebook.
The decision will mean the replacement of 30 board members, including the president, Roberta Siliquini, the head of the school of hygiene and preventive medicine at the University of Turin who was nominated in December 2017 by the former health minister Beatrice Lorenzin.Zachary Young at Politico Europe reports that social media have helped antivax sentiment spread broadly, affecting France.
And if online activity in the U.S. is any indication, some of the vaccine skepticism in Europe could be driven by Russian bots.
In the online war for public opinion on vaccines, the French government is being overwhelmed. According to an October report from the European Commission, only 69.9 percent of French people agree that “vaccines are safe,” placing the country of Louis Pasteur — the 19th century biologist who discovered the principles of vaccination — 26th in the EU28 totem pole, ahead of only Bulgaria and Latvia. When it comes to the seasonal flu vaccine, France ranks last, with 51.8 percent of respondents feeling secure.
Part of the reason that France has fallen so low in EU rankings has to do with anti-vaccination ideas spreading virally on social media, according to health officials and observers of online activity. According to an April report by Printemps Prevention, a preventative health nonprofit, 18 of the 25 most-viewed YouTube vaccines videos in France take a skeptical position. On search engines, the report shows, anti-vaccine queries have increased by 130 percent over five years.
Eleven EU member countries currently fall below the relevant threshold for measles, which requires 93-95 percent vaccination rates, and outbreaks have surged on the Continent since 2017. Whereas the once-rampageous disease was “eliminated” from the Americas in 2016, Europe has this year registered some 41,000 measles cases causing 40 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
Among 27 European countries measured by the OECD, France has the lowest rate of childhood vaccination for the disease.
Marie Werbregue, from central France, became mobilized in the debate after her daughter became autistic, which she attributes to vaccination. Now, she is president of the association “Info Vaccins France” and co-moderates a 10,319-member Facebook group on the subject.
From the World Health Organization:
Reported measles cases spiked in 2017, as multiple countries experienced severe and protracted outbreaks of the disease. This is according to a new report published today by leading health organizations.
Because of gaps in vaccination coverage, measles outbreaks occurred in all regions, while there were an estimated 110 000 deaths related to the disease.
Using updated disease modelling data, the report provides the most comprehensive estimates of measles trends over the last 17 years. It shows that since 2000, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunizations. However, reported cases increased by more than 30 percent worldwide from 2016.
The Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean Region, and Europe experienced the greatest upsurges in cases in 2017, with the Western Pacific the only World Health Organization (WHO) region where measles incidence fell.
“The resurgence of measles is of serious concern, with extended outbreaks occurring across regions, and particularly in countries that had achieved, or were close to achieving measles elimination,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director General for Programmes at WHO. “Without urgent efforts to increase vaccination coverage and identify populations with unacceptable levels of under-, or unimmunized children, we risk losing decades of progress in protecting children and communities against this devastating, but entirely preventable disease.”