Knesset members on Wednesday advanced a bill that would give Israeli authorities the power to sanction parents who do not vaccinate their children and to ban entry to all educational frameworks for any child or person who has not been vaccinated against a disease when there is a national concern over an outbreak of the illness.
MKs backed the so-called “Vaccination Law” by 113 to zero in its preliminary reading, allowing lawmakers to prepare the bill in committee for three further readings.
The law, if authorized in full, would allow the Health Ministry to follow up with children who do not get vaccinations at state-run baby clinics, send their parents an official warning if they continue to refuse, and ministry officials could then decide to apply financial sanctions in an effort to push them to agree to vaccinate.
The sanctions would take the form of reduced tax credits and welfare benefits that could add up to a loss of no more than 2,000 shekels (approximately $530) per month.
A separate clause in the law would apply to entry into public educational institutions — from kindergartens through universities — and proposes that “in circumstances when there is a concern of an outbreak of disease against which there is a routine vaccination, educational institutes will prevent the entry to the institute any child, teacher or other person who is not vaccinated against the disease, according to the directions of the director-general of the Health Ministry, for a suitable period.”
The law comes in response to an outbreak of measles in Israel, which was blamed on those who were not immunized against the disease. Hundreds fell ill with the infectious virus this year, and an 18-month-old toddler died in Jerusalem, the first such death from measles in 15 years.
Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson and Jewish Home MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli, who wrote the bill in cooperation with a Midaat non-profit public health organization and other MKs, welcomed the approval of the legislation.
The bill, which is also supported by the Israel Medical Association and its pediatric division, lays out a national policy for vaccinations and how to deal with those who opt out of the preventive treatment, commonly known as anti-vaxxers.
There has been a growing phenomenon of parents refusing to vaccinate their children, due to various discredited and unproven claims that the life-saving practice is dangerous.
Children who, for medical reasons, cannot be vaccinated, may be granted entry to schools with the approval of a medical expert. However, the Health Ministry will still have the authority to prevent the child entering if it is felt there is a danger to public health.
“Unfortunately, there is a small group of people who, for various reasons, choose not to vaccinate their children. Parents who do not vaccinate their children, expose their children and others to the risk of death and suffering from diseases that could easily and simply be prevented,” the appended explanation to the bill reads.
MK Merav Ben-Ari (Kulanu), who also co-sponsored the bill, noted on Wednesday that “in recent weeks we’ve constantly heard about an outbreak of measles among us that even cost the life of a baby girl in a tragic disaster that could have been prevented.
“As the mother of a one-and-a-half-year-old girl who this year for the first time went to a daycare program, I, like every parent, want to know that my daughter is free of such danger.”
At the beginning of the month, an infant girl died of measles in Jerusalem According to officials at the capital’s Shaare Zedek Hospital, the infant was not vaccinated against the virulently contagious disease.
The girl may have contracted the disease from her parents, both of whom were diagnosed with measles and neither of whom had been vaccinated.
“The spread of the measles epidemic proves the importance of the Vaccination Law. Children who are not vaccinated are exposed to serious diseases and can infect their environment and become a focal point for the outbreak of serious diseases,” Moalem-Refaeli said while introducing the bill. “We must deal with parents who do not vaccinate for lack of knowledge or for ideological reasons to bring about improved public health.”
Measles has made an aggressive return this year in the Israeli population, with the largest spread — 753 known infections — recorded in Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community, due to a refusal by some radical segments of the community to be vaccinated.
The bill will now be transferred to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health committee for further deliberations.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.