Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Annika Saarikko said on Monday she is opposed to compulsory vaccinations, responding to reports last week that a young unvaccinated child contracted measles thereby exposing hundreds of others to the disease.
The child lives in the community of Larsmo in Ostrobothnia where the measles vaccination rate is estimated to be about 75 percent, significantly below the required 95 percent needed for herd immunity.
Saarikko argued that making immunisations obligatory would likely increase ideological opposition to them. Saarikko’s views stand in opposition to her fellow government member, Minister of Education Sanni Grahn-Laasonen, who on Sunday proposed that vaccinating children should be made a condition for the payment of state child and family benefits.
According to Saarikko, she strongly supports vaccinations as they have eradicated many serious diseases. "Nevertheless, the concept of compulsion is quite foreign to the Finnish health care system," Saarikko told Yle.
"Our notion of well-being has always been based on education, support and encouragement," she added.
"I have reviewed the facts and examined the matter with experts, who have in turn relied on a body of research as well as their own experience. There is no demonstrable proof of the effectiveness of compulsion [for vaccinations],” the minister wrote in a blog on Monday.
Saarikko also said there is no evidence that compulsory shots lead to higher vaccination coverage. "In some East-European countries parents must have their children vaccinated or risk a fine. Nevertheless, immunisation coverage in Finland is already better than in these countries."
Meanwhile, the Australian system where failing to vaccinate will lead to a reduction in social benefits has increased both the number of families who take all the vaccines and those who take none, Saarikko said.
What is more, discontinuing state benefits for failure to vaccinate would be difficult in practice, as children in Finland are immunised multiple times from the age of two months to 14 years, Saarikko noted. "Which vaccination would then be deemed to be the one that results in a benefit cut?" she queried.
Instead, Saarikko proposes that parents who have had their children immunised before school-age should be given one extra monthly child benefit payment. (Between 95-173 euros for children in two-parent households.)
"Using the carrot tends to work better than the stick," she said.