Contributing Writer for Wake Up World
The national debate is heating up in France about whether or not to vaccinate. An astounding 58% of French doctors question the usefulness of vaccines for children, while 31% are concerned about vaccine safety.
Vaccination is a controversial topic not only in the United States, but in France as well. Liberty has always been an important touchstone for both nations, so it’s not surprising to see the vaccine debate move into the arena of personal freedom and informed consent. Moreover, the rate of skepticism towards vaccination has spiked in France over the last several years, where medical doctors are viewing vaccines with increasing distrust. And French parents are following suit.
A Constitutional Matter
Samia and Marc Larère live in Auxerre, Burgundy — about a two-hour drive from Paris. They have two young children (ages 3 years and 15 months), which they decided not to vaccinate against diphtheria, tetanus and polio. The Larères are not anti-vaccine fundamentalists, but they do have confidence in alternative medicine.
The couple appeared in court last October for not vaccinating their children. Before the hearing, Samia and Marc explained their position. As reported by The Guardian:
“There are serious studies carried out today that prove that vaccines can make our children ill more than protect them,” Samia Larère told French journalists before the hearing.
“There are additives, like mercury and aluminium, which are dangerous.” She said the couple had become weary of the “giants of the French pharmaceutical industry.”’
The issue in dispute is whether a parent has a right to refuse vaccinating their child. The magistrate of the Burgundy court who heard the Larères case classified it as a constitutional matter, and referred it to the country’s highest legal authority.
The National Union of Citizen Health Associations is paying the couple’s legal fees. Jacques Bessin, president of the organization, told Le Monde, “We’re finally going to ask the real question: am I genuinely free to manage my body and to refuse treatment that can have more serious consequences than the disease?” Likewise, the attorney for the couple asks, “Is the right to refuse [vaccination] a constitutional liberty? There’s an urgent need for clarification of this issue.”
The Vaccine Question
A recent presentation by Michèle Rivasi, a European Ecology MEP (Member of European Parliament), addresses the fact that vaccine safety, “as a general rule, is being questioned” [in France]. Rivasi notes:
“Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of French people in favour or very in favour of vaccination dropped from 90% to 60% (2013 INPES Peretti-Watel health barometer). The percentage of French people between the ages of 18 and 75 who are anti-vaccination increased from 8.5% in 2005 to 38.2% in 2010. In 2005, 58% of doctors questioned the usefulness of vaccines administered to children while 31% of doctors were expressing doubts about vaccine safety. These figures must surely have increased since then.” [source]
Vaccine safety was highlighted in the French media last April when two newborn babies died from intussusception after receiving Rotarix and RotaTeq vaccinations. It’s possible the vaccines may be removed from the recommended vaccine list in France, due to the deaths as well as 500 reported adverse events, some 200 classified as serious.
“Intussusception is a serious disorder in which part of the intestine slides into an adjacent part of the intestine. This “telescoping” often blocks food or fluid from passing through. Intussusception also cuts off the blood supply to the part of the intestine that’s affected. Intussusception can lead to a tear in the bowel (perforation), infection and death of bowel tissue.” – Mayo Clinic
Both vaccines were developed to protect against rotavirus, which normally infects children under the age of five. The virus can cause fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
“Rotarix, manufactured by GSK, and RotaTeq, manufactured by Merck, were approved for the French market in 2006 and 2007. These vaccines, which are also licensed in Canada and the U.S., became the subject of controversy in the US in 2010 when they were found to be contaminated, leading to their temporary suspension by the Food and Drug Administration. RotaTeq has also attracted controversy because it was patented by scientist Paul Offit, an outspoken advocate for mandatory vaccinations. An earlier rotavirus vaccine, Wyeth’s RotaShield, was withdrawn from the market in 1999, nine months after it became available in the US, following more than 100 cases of intussusception and one death.” [source]
Due to increasing skepticism in France surrounding vaccine effectiveness and safety, the French Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Marisol Touraine, believes a national debate is in order to determine the future of the vaccination program. She believes the French tend to exhibit high levels of suspicion and defiance towards vaccines, and would like to open the debate in an effort to properly educate people about the benefits of vaccination.“Transparency is the best medicine to treat unfounded scientific arguments,” she said.
But will the debate be transparent, as Touraine claims? Convinced that vaccines are “absolutely fundamental to avoid disease,” her stance is decidedly pro-vaccination. She also believes “Freedom stops where public health begins.” Furthermore, Touraine’s background raises questions about conflicts of interest. Before her position as Minister of Social Affairs and Health, she was involved with a pharmaceutical lobbying group by the name of Club Avenir de la Santé that is funded by GSK.
Which brings us to the concerns raised by Marco Cáceres in the article, The French National Debate on Vaccine Safety:
“So there is at least some question as to whether the debate will be a fair and balanced one open to all sides, and in which participants are given equal time and opportunities to present their arguments and supporting information. In other words, will France’s upcoming national debate on vaccination be more of a monologue by French health officials than an actual debate?”
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