Italy weakening its child vaccination law is a broader part of the retreat from science and knowledge that’s happening in Italy, the United States and elsewhere

More bad news this week for the children of the world. Italy is relaxing its child vaccination law, which means fewer Italian children will get the basic panel of vaccinations needed to protect them from some very terrible diseases such as polio, diphtheria and Hepatitis B.

Universal vaccination would pretty much wipe out virtually all ten of the diseases against which the Italian government wants all children to get vaccinated. A recent Italian law requires all parents and guardians to provide written proof that their children have been vaccinated against these ten ailments. The law followed an outbreak of more than 5,000 cases of measles in Italy in one year, 34% of all cases in the half billion person European Union, an outsized number: Italy’s population represents only 12% of the EU. The medical community in Europe and around the world was delighted by the new legislation.

But the new Trump-like League- Five Star coalition government of Italy has decided to loosen the rule.Now parents will only be required to confirm verbally that their children have received vaccinations against these ten scourges.  Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister and member of the anti-immigrant, far-right League, has been quoted as saying the ten obligatory vaccinations “are useless and in many cases dangerous, if not harmful….I confirm the commitment to allow all children to go to school.

With that kind of encouragement, we can be certain that lying will go up and child vaccinations will go down. Sadly, illnesses and deaths among Italian children will soar.

The ten diseases, BTW, are polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae B, measles. mumps, rubella, whooping cough and chickenpox.

The origin of the contemporary anti-vaccination movement in both Italy and the United States was a fraud perpetrated on the medical community and the families of the world by a British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield in 1995. Wakefield published a study in The Lancetclaiming children who had the Mumps/Measles/Rubella vaccination were more likely to have bowel disease and autism. He followed it up with another article in 1998. But the good doctor had cooked the books. By 2004, the medical community realized that Wakefield was full of it. That hasn’t stopped anti-vaxers from spouting his bogus research ever since.

When a celebrity or politician talks nonsense about the supposed dangers of vaccination, well-meaning, uneducated parents listen and sometimes decide not to vaccinate, putting both their children and the entire community in danger. That’s why I still believe that while it came early in his campaign, perhaps the most odious, horrific lie that Donald Trump has told to the American people was when he claimed in a debate that he personally knew someone whose child became autistic after being vaccinated. Impossible. Overwhelming clinical evidence proves beyond all doubt that there is absolutely no connection, correlation or relationship between vaccinations and autism. Trump was telling a lie that, like all Trump lies, a sizeable slice of the American public willingly will swallow in one gulp. How shameful to put children at risk to pander to a disproven idea.

But Trump routinely puts children at risk, sometimes with the sadistic glee of a cat batting a mouse around between its paws. The current Nationdetails five distinct ways that his administration imposes “sometimes fatal burdens of children—especially black and brown ones.”The article mentions the separation of children from their families at borders; the travel ban which, as it turns out, has a disproportionately negative effect on children; work requirements for recipients of health and welfare aid; a rolling back of Department of Education efforts to rein in unfair disciplining of African-American children; and efforts to scuttle the World Health Organization resolution favoring breastfeeding. Bullies always pick on people who can’t fight back, so it makes sense that Trump and his followers target children for their cruelty.

The tragedy of what will happen to many children is not the only alarming aspect of this change in the Italian law. The news media is reporting that the medical and scientific community believes that the statements of government officials and the vote to loosen the law increases distrust of science in Italy.

Americans know, or don’t know, something about the distrust of science. The mass media has been sowing it for years by giving coverage to wacky theories like vaccinations cause autism; treating global warming as an open questions years after science decided the issue; giving a platform to creationists; routinely denigrating intellectual endeavors; writing in feature story after feature story that school is boring; and attributing negative traits to intelligent people, e.g. socially maladroit, physically unattractive, unathletic, unstylish and awkward.

Trump, of course, has taken this anti-truth, anti-science crusade to a new level. This failed businessman turned celebrity routinely lies and uses those lies to develop and implement policies that flaunt science and scientific research. He and his administration make up lies about immigrant crime, the unfairness of current trade agreements, climate change, the renting of children to allow bad guys to cross borders, the benefit to the economy of tax cuts, the reasons behind epidemic of mass shootings, and just about everything else.  The latest addition to the hit parade of mendacity is the claim that dropping the gas mileage standards on trucks and car will benefit the economy. Trumpites have a deep distrust in experts of all kinds, especially experts who speak against their cherished beliefs, superstitions and prejudices.

The death of newspapers. The rise of the irrational as a force in social media. The decline in the number of people reading books. The gutting of scientists and other professional experts from key government positions. The continued decline in government support of public schools and colleges. Everywhere we see signs of a retreat from knowledge.

It’s happened before in world history, for example in Western Europe after the death of Charlemagne when most intellectual endeavors retreated to monasteries under the auspices of a superstitious church or during the later years of the Song dynasty when the examination system to decide who would run the country was corrupted by wealthy people wanting to make sure their children were well-positioned. Willful ignorance of the facts on the ground is probably a significant factor in the decline of all civilizations and countries. Decline always comes with extreme pain, and those who suffer most are almost always the children.

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