Measles outbreak prompts calls for national debate on making child vaccinations obligatory

In a stark headline this morning, ‘people’s tabloid’ Correio da Manhã suggests that parents could face up to eight years in jail if they refuse to vaccinate their children.

The issue is raging as highly infectious measles, blamed on non-vaccinated children, sweeps Europe.

The number of cases confirmed in Portugal so far has topped 21 – with at least one child, a 17-year-old girl, reported to be in a critical condition in Lisbon’s D. Estefânia Hospital.

The teen caught the virus from an unvaccinated baby admitted to Cascais hospital last month.

The baby has since made a complete recovery, but also infected four health professionals (click here).

But as new cases – spread between Lisbon and the Algarve – continue to be reported, focus now is on whether parents should have the right to “compromise their children’s health” by deciding against the national vaccination programme.

Health boss Francisco George told a press conference that it is time for a countrywide debate on making child vaccinations obligatory.

Lawyer Rogério Alves has told CM that Article 283 in the Penal Code already allows for people to be jailed if found guilty of the crime of propagating a contagious disease.

CM explains that the Article ends with “whoever propagates a contagious disease and creates danger to life or serious danger to the physical integrity of another is punishable with a prison term of 1-8 years”.

This is the penalty if it can be proved that contagion was caused with intent, or bad faith.

If it was caused “through negligence”, the penalty reduces to 1-5 years, says the paper.

Francisco George’s call for a countrywide debate is supported by other medical sources which challenge the right of parents to make decisions that could lead to their children becoming seriously ill.

Said José Gonçalo Marques of Lisbon’s Santa Maria hospital’s pediatric infections unit: “the right of parents to not vaccinate has to be set against the right of children to be vaccinated”.

According to CM, this latest outbreak has come out of Romania where there have been “more than 4000 cases”.

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