Measles vaccine restrictions may be shelved in Portugal

Carroça compares measles crackdown with headscarf row, but says ‘everything must be kept in line’

A measure to restrict the immunisation of pregnant women in Portugal in an attempt to halt the spread of measles is facing growing criticism and will probably be shelved, local health authorities said on Friday.

Anti-vaccination activists recently organised a mass protest in Lisbon by thousands of women and drew considerable attention to the country’s woeful record on immunisation – although it was later punctured by a report that said that fewer than 0.05% of babies in Lisbon’s maternity ward were unvaccinated.

The Portuguese state emergency medical service said the number of measles cases in the country had almost tripled over the past three months and urged residents to take “all necessary precautions” to protect themselves from the potentially fatal disease.

The health minister of the eastern Algarve region, Luis Cordeiro dos Pires, said the latest move to restrict medical exemptions for the vaccine had caused the government’s coalition partners to reject the measure.

In a statement issued on Friday, said the region’s chief medical officer had decided to withdraw the vaccination ban with immediate effect because the area’s infection rate was now running at zero.

But the health authorities stressed that a decision was still pending to lift the measure. Officials warned that unless “every possible action” was taken to combat the spread of diseases including measles, “these respiratory infections and to reduce this type of mortality could reach epidemic levels” in the Algarve and elsewhere in southern Portugal.

Carroça said Friday that a similar debate had taken place in Portugal after anti-Muslim protests flared up across the country following the publication of cartoons depicting prophet Muhammad in France’s Charlie Hebdo magazine in January last year.

“We are doing the same thing in regards to the measles issue as we have done regarding a public document that we sent regarding the very presence of female students at some universities,” she said.

She added that the move to suspend the provision of medical exemptions to the vaccination program “had to take place”.

“But the decision we made today, the suspension, has to be taken in accordance with our collective commitment in keeping all things within line,” she added.

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