ROME, June 23 (Xinhua) -- A measles death case of a six-year-old boy in the northern Italian city of Monza has sparked renewed controversy over vaccines in Italy.
The child's immune system was compromised because he had leukemia and contracted measles from his two older siblings, who had not been vaccinated.
Italy has seen a dropoff in immunizations in recent years due to highly organized "no-vax" campaigns claiming that vaccines can cause autism, and that they are a plot hatched by greedy multinationals.
The populist Five Star Movement, currently the leading party in Italy, has in the past endorsed the "no-vax" position.
"Such cases would not happen today if immunization coverage were adequate and if parents vaccinated their children," Italian Pediatrics Society vaccines commissioner, Susanna Esposito, told Italian news agency ANSA on Friday.
"The little boy had acute lymphoblasetic leukemia, a disease which today has an 85 percent chance of recovery in similar cases," Lombardy Welfare Councillor Giulio Gallera said in a statement announcing the child's death late on Thursday.
"I reiterate that herd immunity, that is, vaccinating over 95 percent of children, is the only way to protect those with compromised immune systems," Gallera wrote.
Measles has the potential for large outbreaks wherever immunization coverage has dropped below the necessary threshold of 95 percent of the population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
This is the case right now in Italy and Romania, both of which are experiencing the largest measles outbreaks in Europe, the WHO has warned.
There have been 3,074 cases of measles in Italy since the beginning of the year, 89 percent of them among unvaccinated people and with 40 percent of cases landing patients in hospital, according to the Italian health ministry's weekly bulletin on what it says is an ongoing measles epidemic.
There is no specific treatment for measles and while most people recover within two to three weeks it can cause serious complications, including blindness, encephalitis, pneumonia, and death.
It is globally still one of the leading causes of childhood mortality, and the only way to prevent it is by immunization, according to the WHO.
"It is extremely painful to comment on the death of a six-year-old boy... who probably could have been saved from leukemia but who was killed by measles," Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said in a statement.
"This happens... when herd immunity is lacking," wrote Lorenzin, whose measure raising from four to 12 the number of mandatory vaccines for young children went into effect on June 7.
"We must respect medicine and scientific truth for the good of our children," the health minister wrote. The new vaccines law includes immunization against highly contagious diseases such as polio, meningitis, measles, and rubella.
It makes completing these vaccinations a pre-requisite for children to attend school, and imposes fines on parents who don't comply. The measure sparked protests in Italy's north, with 130 families in the Alto Adige region saying they would rather claim political asylum in nearby Austria than vaccinate their kids.