© Bloomberg
A law compelling children enrolling at state schools to have 10 vaccinations has been removed
Italy's upper house of parliament has voted through legislation from the ruling anti-establishment government to remove the legal obligation to vaccinate schoolchildren.

A law compelling children to have 10 vaccinations in order to enrol at state schools came into effect in March, after a surge in the number of measles cases. But the Five Star Movement and the League, which formed a ruling coalition two months ago, pledged to scrap the vaccination obligation during the run-up to elections in March, courting the so-called "anti-vax" vote.

The new legislation puts Italy out of step with other European countries such as France and Germany, which have been bolstering vaccine regulation. Critics say the government is eroding faith in science and nine Italian regional administrations that oppose the repeal have said they intend to appeal to the constitutional court or bring in their own laws to reinstate compulsory vaccines.

Last year Italy had 5,000 cases of measles, up from 870 in 2016. It had 29 per cent of all cases in the EU or European Economic Area in the year to June 2018.

Five Star has longstanding links to anti-vaccination campaigners. Giulia Grillo, the party's health minister, says she supports vaccination but says current rules are too restrictive. Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, has said that having ten compulsory vaccines is "useless and sometimes dangerous".
Giulia Grillo
© AP
Giulia Grillo, Five Star's health minister, says she supports vaccination but that current rules are too restrictive
The amendment, passed by 148 to 110 votes, will not become law in time for the new school year as it still needs to pass the lower house after the parliamentary recess. If passed then it will postpone the obligation for parents to vaccinate children until the start of the next school year in 2019, but before then the coalition government intends to bring forward new legislation enshrining freedom of choice.

Vaccines are not a bureaucratic imposition but the best method of prevention Antonio Saitta Filippo Anelli, president of the federation of surgeons and orthodontists, said parliament "should respect science" while Antonio Saitta, health director for the Piedmont region and health co-ordinator for the federation of regions, said the vote risked taking "a step backwards" on a major public health issue.

"Vaccines are not a bureaucratic imposition but the best method of prevention. They allow us to reduce serious and lethal diseases, and even eliminate them," he said.

While the legislation is pending, parents will no longer have to provide schools with a doctor's note to show their children have been vaccinated. The move has raised alarm among health experts who fear that compliance with vaccines will drop.

Davide Faraone, of the Democractic party, said the measures left Italy as "a kind of Wild West in which the health of children will be left completely to the family".