Vaccination falloff sparks measles epidemic

Italy is experiencing a measles epidemic following a fall-off in vaccinations.

There have been almost 1500 registered cases of measles so far this year, against some 840 in all of 2016 and 250 in 2015, says the Italian health ministry.

"Italy and Romania have an epidemic at the moment," says Walter Ricciardi, president of the Higher Health Institute, adding that he understands why the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisory this week.

Mr Ricciardi told Radio 24 that, unlike in Italy, the US had launched a massive campaign to convince parents to vaccinate their children.

The Higher Health Institute says only around 85% of two-year-olds are being vaccinated against measles at present — well below the 95% threshold recommended by WHO.

The centre-left government has accused the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) of spreading concern among parents by questioning the safety of some vaccines and by loudly denouncing efforts to make vaccinations mandatory.

"Vaccinations have played a vital role in eradicating terrible illnesses ... but nonetheless, they bring a risk associated with side effects," M5S founder Beppe Grillo wrote in 2015, saying mandatory vaccination represented a gift for multinational pharmaceutical firms.

Renewed concern over measles comes amid fury over a program on state broadcaster RAI that highlights the possible side effects of the HPV vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer.

The M5S has defended the report, but health officials are accusing RAI of being unnecessarily alarmist.