Finland's Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen has come forward to propose making children's vaccination a condition for the payment of state child and family benefits. The minister says the country must find more effective ways to secure proper vaccine coverage.
"Refusing vaccinations is not a private matter. Herd immunity is endangered when parents do not allow their children to receive vaccines, as this presents a threat that diseases will spread to many others and maybe even infect smaller children who are too young to have received vaccinations," Grahn-Laasonen explained in a press release.
She says the issue has now reached the point where Finns must be brave enough to discuss it.
"Mandatory rules and obligations should be a last resort, but we have to ask ourselves if we've already passed this limit," Grahn-Laasonen said.
If families' state assistance were tied to vaccination requirements in Finland, it would in practice make the vaccines compulsory.
Larsmo community only 75% covered
The issue is again being discussed in the public forum after an unvaccinated pre-school child in the western municipality of Larsmo was diagnosed with measles earlier this week. A local physician fears that the disease will spread quickly in the community, as only 75 percent of the population there has received the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
The World Health Organisation recommends vaccination coverage of 95 percent in order to provide effective herd immunity. Authorities have estimated that some 300 people in the Ostrobothnia region were exposed to the illness by coming into contact with the child.
Grahn-Laasonen pointed out in her bulletin that Finland's national vaccination programme only contains vaccines that have been demonstrated to be eminently safe and effective. They are also administered for free at each of the country's health care centres.
Finland's Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Annika Saarikko has said that she does not support the idea of mandatory vaccination requirements.
Joining with France, Italy, the US and Australia
Several other countries have implemented tougher rules with regards to vaccinations. In Italy, after vaccination coverage dropped from 90 to 80 percent, laws were passed to enforce the vaccination of children against 12 general diseases before they are allowed to register for state schools. Parents who have not had their children vaccinated before the age of six are also fined in Italy.
A national programme of 11 vaccinations was made mandatory in France earlier this year, and children without the required vaccines are likewise not allowed to start day care or school.
The same rule applies in the United States. The state of California has even gone one step further, by no longer allowing parents to refuse vaccinations due to personal beliefs.
In Australia, families risk losing their child benefit if their offspring are not vaccinated.