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Vaccine debate as support drops

Health ministry says it will “respond to all worries and preoccupations” through consultation and education

THE Ministry of Health has launched a national debate on vaccination to counter a growing anti-vaccine movement in France.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine said she wanted to “reinforce confidence” in vaccination and “respond to all worries and preoccupations”.

The ministry is responding to dropping numbers of vaccinations. Since 2008 the number of people receiving winter flu jabs has dropped 13 percentage points and the number of outbreaks of measles is rising after a drop in baby vaccinations.

Vaccinations against human papilloma virus in young girls have also had a low take up, just 17%, compared to 80% in neighbouring countries.

As HPV infection can increase the risk of developing cancer of the uterus, the national health authority recommends the vaccination in girls aged between nine and 14.

Mrs Touraine admitted that France’s policy of splitting vaccines into two groups of ‘compulsory’ and ‘recommended’ was a source of confusion for the public.

In France three vaccines are mandatory for children before the age of 11: diphtheria, tetanus and polio (DTP). Others are only ‘recommended’.

However, since 2008 there has been no single DTP vaccination, and parents have had to use combinations with other recommended jabs such as whooping cough and hepatitis B.

The health ministry yesterday described the shortage of stock of certain essential vaccines as “worrying” and said that manufacturers should put in place measures to avoid them or face financial penalties.

Last summer such a shortage led to a petition by the oncologist Henri Joyeux warning of the dangers of using the only available product at that time - which contained six vaccinations - and claiming certain vaccinations were unnecessary.

He is being sued by the Ordre des médecins for the talks he has given around the country against vaccinations.

However, growing mistrust in vaccinations began earlier, in the wake of the H1N1 scandal when the government ordered 94 million doses of flu vaccine and only six million were used by the public.

Manufacturers pocketed €48 million from the order, amid claims that the risk of the spread of H1N1 had been exaggerated, and investigations that revealed links between those assessing the risk to public health, those formulating policy and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

In March a website will be launched to collect responses from the public, medical professionals, associations and institutions which will be examined before new vaccine proposals are announced in December.

Another site will also educate the public and health professionals on the subject of vaccinations.

A new electronic vaccination card will also be launched in March in five regions.

Photo: Flickr/Daniel Paquet

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