Parents eye Austrian asylum in Italy vaccination dispute

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Vaccine and syringe - file picImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
There is some resistance to mandatory vaccinations in Italy

A group of German-speaking parents in northern Italy are so angry about a new requirement to get their children vaccinated that they plan to seek asylum in nearby Austria.

The 130 families live in Alto Adige - also known as South Tyrol - a region that was part of Austria before 1919.

Last month the Italian government ruled that children must be vaccinated against 12 common illnesses before they can enrol for state-run schools.

Cases of measles have risen in Italy.

The highly-contagious sickness is fatal in some cases. Some other European countries, including France and Romania, have also seen more measles cases this year.

In some parts of Europe, including Italy, vaccination rates have dropped below those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The leader of the South Tyrol protest, Reinhold Holzer, said the group had sent protest messages to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"We won't allow our children to be poisoned. Asylum is claimed not just by people fleeing war, but also by people whose rights are being violated," said Mr Holzer, quoted by Austria's Der Standard daily.

Trentino-Alto Adige, a mountainous Alpine region, is reported to have one of the highest vaccine refusal rates in Italy.

In an interview with Radio Südtirol Mr Holzer alleged that some chemicals in vaccines were risky, and said parents should have a free choice about child immunisations, as in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

However, Germany recently announced plans to fine parents who failed to get medical advice about immunising their child.

Mr Holzer voiced concern about Thiomersal (or Thimerosal), a mercury-based preservative used in some vaccines, and about genetically engineered vaccines.

The UK National Health Service says Thiomersal is not used in child vaccines - and adds that it poses no risk anyway.

Conspiracy theories about the health risks of certain vaccinations - largely based on one discredited paper - have spread on the internet, prompting some parents to shun immunisation.

Scientific studies have debunked an alleged link between vaccines and autism, as the US Centers for Disease Control point out on their website.