New Doll With Measles Re-Opens Debate Over Vaccination

This controversy arises from the particular Italian debate on vaccination, leading to a law extending the number of compulsory vaccines from four to ten.

On April 1, a new doll has been put on the market by the Italian company Giochi preziosi. This toy, named ‘Cicciobello Morbillino‘, is a reproduction of a baby with measles that kids can heal by rubbing it with a cream, napkins and patches. The introduction of this specific ‘Cicciobello‘ has been disapproved by some renowned doctors and experts in vaccines, because of the misleading interpretation of a serious illness that could result from this toy.

The debate

One of the firmest stances has been taken by Roberto Burioni, a well-known virologist who has always assumed a pro-vaccination position. In a tweet of last April 3, he expressed his strong disapproval, speaking about the ‘banalization of a severe disease’ and the disrespect of patients and their families. According to Burioni, this weird toy could lead to an underestimation of measles, still a widespread disease in Italy, killing 4 people in the last few months and contaminating over 400. This position has been assumed by the Facebook page ‘IoVaccino’ as well, administered by a community of parents and healthcare professionals, with the objective of providing correct information about vaccines.

Other two authoritative opinions have come from Dr. Salvo Di Grazia (MedBunker on Twitter) and from Walter Ricciardi, Director of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (the Italian National Institute of Health). The former has been ironic about the toy: ‘Be careful! For some dolls, the napkin does not work and Cicciobello ends up being intubated in intensive care with viral encephalitis’. The latter spoke about the risks of linking measles to something playful. Therefore, Ricciardi urged Giochi Preziosi to withdraw their product from the market.

Dario Bertè, CEO of the company, replied that they acted in good faith, not intending to banalize a serious disease, since the concept of the ill doll always existed before. Moreover, according to Berté, this toy could encourage kids to take a much greater interest about measles. Finally, with regard to a possible withdraw, he stated that only authorities can impose it.

Vaccination in Italy

This controversy arises from the particular Italian debate on vaccination, starting in the last few years and leading, in July 2017, to a national law extending the number of compulsory vaccines from four to ten. This health plan involves kids and teenager between 0 and 16 years, aiming to contrast the progressive decrease in vaccines that, from 2013, reduced the average vaccination coverage to less than 95 percent. This percentage represents the minimum one recommended by the World Health Organization, in order to guarantee the so-called herd immunity, namely the threshold providing a sufficient measure to protect individuals who are not immune.

Anti-vaccination campaigns

The growing mistrust about vaccination could be linked to a nationwide sense of rebellion against the authorities, boosted by those populist parties that, in the last few years, have steadily increased their consent among the population. In particular, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) intensively campaigned against vaccination by stressing the false connection between vaccine and autism, also mentioned by Donald Trump in a tweet dating back to 2014. This scepticism found fertile ground especially in the Five Star Movement electorate, characterized by strong diffidence about everything coming from the establishment. Not for nothing, the responsibilities of the Five Star Movement for this dramatic decrease in vaccination has been highlighted even in a New York Times’ editorial of May 2017.

Although the current leader of the M5S, Luigi Di Maio, toned down the Movement’s criticism about vaccination, he proposed to replace obligation with recommendation. A similar position has been taken by Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, who defined the introduction of ten compulsory vaccines an ‘enormous risk’. These two parties achieved an incredible result in the last political elections, formalizing their large consent among the Italian voters.

Science is not democratic

In conclusion, in the so-called post-truth era, everybody is allowed to express their opinion on the internet, risking however to spread false information. That is why the above mentioned Dr. Roberto Burioni published two books, ‘La congiura dei somari‘ (The donkeys’ conspiracy) and ‘Il vaccino non è un’opinione‘ (Vaccine is not an opinion), in order to stop the increasingly widespread misinterpretations and fake news on the web.