A campaign to prevent what German health authorities have described as “post-Santa poliomyelitis” has seen venues across Berlin banning unvaccinated children from entering concerts, plays and films, in a mounting backlash against the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella.
The Arbeit in Bahnhofplatz campaign, started by a pair of actresses in Berlin, includes a parody advert showing a woman in a miniskirt, singing, “I’ve got itchy fingers, but no vaccinates, no. No goddamn babies.”
Andrea Döring and Anna Völk-Dermer have filmed a series of campaigns, while many other theatres, bars and restaurants have banned unvaccinated guests. The posters read: “No Kids Without Vaccines – Can We Start Right Here in Berlin?” and ask for donations. The campaign costs around €2,000 (£1,600) a month.
“People who don’t vaccinate their children are getting short shrift,” Döring said. “This is just a harmless request.”
The move was prompted by the outbreak of the highly contagious disease in west Berlin, believed to have spread to the city via a school in a nearby borough. According to Berlin Health Department figures, the number of recorded cases – but not suspected cases – reached 77 last week. So far around 1,400 cases of the disease have been recorded across the country, with many more presumed cases that have gone unrecorded, as measles can remain contagious for up to 20 days after the appearance of symptoms.
Concern is greatest in west Berlin, where local residents believe their children have been wrongly warned of the dangers of vaccinations. Unconfirmed reports, including in the German tabloid Bild, have suggested some parents have bullied school teachers into administering antibiotics to their children in an attempt to persuade them not to get vaccinated.
The German capital’s health authorities have insisted that vaccinations are safe, and that data on children’s vaccination rate is confidential.
Measles symptoms include a high fever of 37C or above, a rash, and a red, runny nose. Initial symptoms appear a few days after infection, usually in children before the age of one, followed by a rash appearing in the third week of illness. Left untreated, the disease causes severe complications including pneumonia and encephalitis, a serious swelling of the brain.
“Measles is very contagious,” said Ania Nittrich, of the German pharmaceutical association at Baumsteinungsdamm, a city branch of the German research group BfS. “A case of measles in the office at the end of the day could easily have been discovered. It isn’t an extremely devastating disease but the long-term consequences can still be substantial. Measles carries a great risk of making people immobile, depressed and therefore less productive in the long term.”