Written by Staff Writer at CNN
France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland already offer autism spectrum-related insurance coverage to autistic children, and now Austria has officially joined them.
The country’s insurance agency has announced plans to mandate that children with suspected autism be vaccinated for any disease, with the first coverage set to begin in May of this year.
“Austria is going to be a pioneer country for all vaccination requirements,” physician and medical expert Dr. Franz Ridel, told CNN.
“We want to check and approve all the assessments, and in the future we want to strengthen the coordination of health care. The objective is to minimize the loss from health care costs,” he added.
Covid vaccines containing diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and polio, which provide protection against these four strains, are routinely administered to young children and pregnant women in Europe. They were developed using blood donations from children in orphanages, where those born with disability can usually be identified early.
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While there is evidence that two of the strains of these vaccines, the DTaP and MMR, can cause serious complications, including meningitis, they are considered the most effective and clinically safe in protecting against these conditions.
Covid vaccines are now required in 17 countries, including all EU member states except Malta and Cyprus. Ridel says while he is very much “optimistic” about the success of Austria’s rollout, some countries, such as Malta, will be adopting the program as part of other legislative measures.
In Scotland, autism shots will become mandatory in the upcoming years, as part of a wider range of childhood vaccines.
“Scotland has, alongside French and the other EU countries, taken its own policy on autism,” said Ridel. “In the case of autism, it must be suggested to be vaccinated, as in the case of other diseases. This places Austria among a small group of countries that can be regarded as pioneers in this field.”
His plan is to have “on board” specialists to make sure the vaccinations are followed. At the moment, only parents have the opportunity to have their children vaccinated, with only a doctor able to make the decisions. The decision can be made either orally or by mail.
Ridel hopes the self-certification system will reduce costs and increase efficiency. Children would apply to be vaccinated, with the health service confirming, making sure it was accurate, and providing documentation. Their vaccination would be approved by the local health board, who are independent and are expected to verify that such a request is actually legitimate. They would also come before a specialist to be approved for the inoculation.
Ridel knows that it is still an experiment. “Our biggest concern is to make sure that all the relevant health departments from all over the country are present at the relevant regional board meetings.”
The project, he hopes, will also lead to both parents and providers “becoming more aware and cautious.”
“The only way to minimize the risks is to vaccinate,” Ridel says. “The longer you delay in immunizing you increase the risks.”
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France, where coverage is currently compulsory, started a major vaccination policy a decade ago, when the number of children with autism by children was growing. Between 2005 and 2014, the prevalence of autism in France was cut in half, to around 5%. In 2015 the majority of parents in France supported a proposed law which would have forced children to be vaccinated if they were “at or beyond average risk of becoming autistic.”
Ridel hopes his vision will be adopted in other areas of the world, including Ukraine, where children’s lives are exposed to risks, as a result of the current conflict.
An epidemic of diseases like measles, according to an ongoing WHO immunization advisory, is also beginning to break out around the globe, after vaccination rates plummeted in recent years. In Ukraine, for example, nearly a third of all children in the country have not been vaccinated, according to figures released by the Ministry of Health.