Germany to allow waiver for unvaccinated children at schools

Holger Stahl, Germany’s health minister, is aiming to protect vulnerable groups from death

Germany’s controversial ban on unvaccinated children entering kindergartens and schools, introduced a year ago to protect vulnerable groups, could see everyone else offered a conditional waiver, according to the country’s health minister.

Holger Stahl outlined details of the proposal in a newspaper interview, saying that schools would have to inform parents of any exemptions, and that health officials would have the discretion to allow children to stay home if they felt the risk to wider society was too high.

“As often in difficult situations you have to consider the entire population as a group,” he said in the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Germany’s vaccination regime, which caused widespread controversy two years ago when a report linked an increase in an unproven childhood disease called whooping cough to a rise in whooping cough cases, has now been tightened further.

In January, Stahl approved entry restrictions for children aged up to two at kindergarten and school after a European court of human rights ruling ruled that restrictions in Belgium and other countries constituted unlawful discrimination.

The bans were not introduced because of the whooping cough outbreak but to help protect vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, those suffering from weakened immune systems, and children with long-term conditions such as asthma.

Between 90,000 and 125,000 live births are registered in Germany each year, although only 30% of children between the ages of one and four are vaccinated.

Some 1.8 million children have at some point been offered a waiver on compulsory vaccination, including those who could not prove they were fully vaccinated, and about 100,000 have been granted alternative permission, officials say.

After the HAP ruling, some health experts in Germany predicted that many parents would pull their children out of school, but rates of compliance with compulsory vaccination are actually higher than in many other countries.

In June, the national vaccination authority, Robert Koch Institute, recorded an increase in the number of babies who received immunisation by their first birthday. That means almost two thirds of new babies received the full series of shots.

The outbreak of whooping cough – which can lead to uncontrollable coughing attacks and has historically been highly contagious – has since died down.

WHO has said it has reached a low point, with vaccination programmes playing a key role in containing the disease.

In April, the US district court of appeals in the western state of Oklahoma overturned a district court ruling that children must be vaccinated against diphtheria and tetanus if they do not have medical reasons.

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