On Tuesday, it was reported that Massimiliano Fedriga, a right-wing Italian politician who governs the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, was hospitalized for chickenpox.
Fedriga, who announced his stay on social media and is now recuperating at home, is a prominent opponent of Italy’s 2017 health ministry policy decreeing mandatory vaccination for 10 childhood diseases before admitting children to school. He has claimed that he personally immunized his children and supports vaccines, but it “is necessary to form an alliance with families, not impose [it on them].”
Chickenpox is extremely contagious and while usually not that serious, it is much more dangerous in adults than children — sufferers are at risk for pneumonia, encephalitis, bleeding, sepsis, and even death.
Fedriga is a member of the Northern League, a far-right populist party led by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and part of the governing coalition of Italy. Originally formed in 1991 to advocate converting Italy into a federated state and strengthening regional autonomy, it has more recently adopted an extreme anti-immigrant agenda.
Nor is Fedriga alone in his anti-vaccine stance — Salvini has called vaccines “useless and in many cases dangerous,” and and the Northern League, as well as the allied Five Star Movement Party, has pandered to vaccine conspiracy theory groups. The government recently fired every member of a major health advisory board, and the World Health Organization is worried that vaccination rates in Italy are too low to prevent dangerous disease outbreaks.
Vaccines are one of the most important inventions in medical history. They have wiped out several life-threatening illnesses and drastically lowered infant and child mortality. But rates of vaccination are faltering in many parts of the developed world, as conspiracy theories about their purpose, efficacy, and side effects have made some families confused and afraid. In the United States, anti-vaccine agitating has led to the resurgence of measles, which was once virtually eradicated in the country.
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