Italy overturns mandatory vaccinations for kids

The Italian government has overturned mandatory vaccination for schoolchildren.

It has announced it will suspend a law which requires parents to prove their children have had 10 routine vaccinations when enrolling them in preschools or nurseries. The suspension will last a year.

On Friday (local time), the upper house of the Italian parliament approved the amendment by 148 to 110 votes, although it still needs to pass the lower house.

The vaccination law was introduced in June 2017 by the left-wing Democratic Party when the country was in the throes of a measles outbreak in which more than 5000 cases were reported. There has been a sixfold increase in measles rates in Italy over the last year.

Populist party the Five Star Movement and its far-right coalition partner the League opposed the compulsory vaccination law, claiming that it would exclude children from school communities.

League leader Matteo Salvini called the 10 mandatory vaccinations - which included shots for measles, polio and tetanus - "useless" and said they were "in many cases dangerous, if not harmful".

Italy's Health Minister said the suspension of the vaccination law is an attempt to make schools more inclusive and make life easier for parents of young children.

However Italian doctors and scientists have expressed concern over the amendment, saying it could jeopardise the country's vaccine coverage which has been improving after years of Italy falling behind the immunisation rates of countries such as Ghana.

Higher vaccination coverage means greater 'herd immunity', which can protect a population from the spread of contagious diseases.

In 2015, 85 percent of Italian children received the first dose of the measles vaccine, and 83 percent received the second dose.

Microbiology and virology professor Roberto Burioni told CNN that the law was having a positive impact on the country and should be strengthened, not weakened.

"Now, children who are not vaccinated will endanger other children at school who are too small for vaccines or cannot be vaccinated because they suffer from immunosuppressive diseases."

Italy has become one of the most sceptical countries in Europe when it comes to vaccination, ever since a notorious 1998 study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield that linked the MMR vaccine to an increase chance of autism in children.

His findings were debunked and he was struck off the UK medical register, but suspicions about vaccination have lingered.

In 2012, a court in Rimini, northeast Italy, ruled that a child's autism was caused by the MMR vaccination, but the ruling was overturned just three years later.