VIENNA — About 15,000 school children and teachers in Austria will have to show proof of vaccinations Tuesday in an attempt to eliminate “otherlike diseases,” including measles, before a World Health Organization ruling on Tuesday requiring them.
The step by the ministry of health in Vienna, where 48 cases of measles have been confirmed this winter, follows warnings in the U.S. that serious numbers of measles outbreaks could follow mandatory vaccination laws taking effect across the country later this month.
The WHO made the decision in December to ban “otherlike” vaccinations, which had been used in Austria, due to its recognition that the development of hepatitis B had been traced to 12 percent of unvaccinated children — a higher figure than had been known at the time.
The “otherlike” vaccines are used for children at risk of serious illnesses such as other measles, mumps, rubella, polio and meningitis. Health officials have been trying to do away with these “refuse-to-vaccinate” policies since the 2001-2 European Union measles epidemic.
The new rules target children up to the age of 13 who are receiving private or state-approved vaccines. Such children need to show proof of immunization with three vaccines — including two in special centers — when enrolling for schooling in kindergarten or high school.
The new regulations had been in place since late 2018, when about 8,000 school children had to provide proof of vaccination in order to enrol. However, Tuesday’s decision will apply to about 12,000 children who take part in kindergartens or high schools — which have about 75,000 students at any given time.
Austria had been dealing with repeated outbreaks of measles since 2001, when 33,000 cases were confirmed, most of them in kindergartens. At the peak, 457 children and adolescents were infected, and 24 died.
The number of cases in 2018 more than halved to 23, but seven more cases had been reported by January. Officials attributed the fall partly to increased awareness of the disease through doctors’ attention and an increase in vaccination among students.
Public health minister Walter Berset told the paper Die Presse that the latest outbreak, which was partly triggered by a recent cholera outbreak in nearby Hungary, was linked to vaccinations.
Measles was designated an international disease in the 1970s when an estimated 2 million were already reported, but public health officials expect a resurgence in 2019. The WHO has blamed this on anti-vaccination campaigns and media coverage of them.
As the number of imported cases in January and February in the U.S. reached about 200, and more cases are expected, Germany is also preparing for increased vaccinations.
Measles typically begins with a fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a rash all over the body and a blotchy red blotchy rash on the head as well. Unvaccinated adults and children can be particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases and pose a risk for those who can’t receive regular doses of the main vaccines.