Child vaccination rates in Germany are much lower than previously thought and could put the country at risk from an outbreak of serious diseases such as measles and rubella, a new study has found.
Vaccination rates against the 13 most serious conditions are all under 90 per cent, according to the study for the Barmer public health insurance fund.
That is well below the 95 per cent level considered by scientists to provide “herd immunity” and protect those who cannot be immunised.
The findings will add to concerns “anti-vaxxer” campaigns and parents’ refusal to have their children immunised have left Germany at risk of a dangerous outbreak.
One in five German two-year-olds is not vaccinated against measles, according to the study, leaving 166,000 children exposed to the potentially deadly disease.
Angela Merkel’s government moved last month to make measles vaccinations compulsory for all children and impose fines of up to €2,500 on parents who not comply, but the study found that immunisation rates also lag on other dangerous diseases such as rubella.
It found that 3.3 per cent of children born in 2015 received no vaccines at all in the first two years of their lives.
The study is is the first time vaccination rates in Germany have been subject to proper scientific scrutiny. Authorities previously believed the vaccination rate was 93 per cent, but those figures relied on self-reporting by parents.
“There are still too few children being vaccinated in Germany. This makes the elimination of specific infectious diseases impossible and prevents the protection of those who can not be vaccinated,” said Prof Christoph Straub, the head of Barmer, the public health insurance fund behind the study.
A vaccination rate of 95 per cent is considered necessary to protect those who cannot be immunised because they are too young or have other health issues from exposure to infection.
The “anti-vaxxer” movement has seen a growing number of parents refuse to have their children immunised over fears the vaccine may cause autism or other developmental disorders, despite the fact there is no scientific evidence to support this.
“We need specific vaccination campaigns for target groups to reduce skepticism and fear of vaccination,” Prof Straub said.
“Measles vaccines alone have prevented around 21m deaths worldwide since the turn of the millennium. Not only measles but also rubella infection is not an unavoidable health risk, but a failure of healthcare.”