Austria has become the first country in Europe to require all pregnant women be vaccinated against cervical cancer, as the government moves to tackle an outbreak of the virus that causes the disease.
A bill will be introduced by the interior minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, on Friday that, if passed, would require all expecting mothers in Austria to get a vaccine against the human papillomavirus, a type of virus linked to the majority of cervical cancers.
The law would come into force in mid-September 2019, immediately after the all-important registration period for the vaccine.
Two major outbreaks of the disease have been reported this year in Austria – in Badger in southern Austria in February and in Burgenland province in northern Austria in May – each affecting at least 10 patients. Around half of the cancer cases linked to HPV can be prevented by vaccination.
A HPV vaccination jab for girls in New Zealand. Photograph: Alex Cullen/Getty Images
Babies born to infected mothers are more likely to get the virus themselves, and infection can be passed on to their unborn children. Experts said it was unclear what proportion of the new infections this year had been caused by linked infections.
“We know that in southern Austria there have been four, five cases this year,” Dr Ralf Kraus from the Klinikum Schweizerhof in Baden-Baden said.
The new legislation would come as a surprise to many mothers in the UK. In the UK, which has the most efficient screening system in Europe, few pregnant women have to be vaccinated against the virus.
It will give hope to those who have been anti-vaccine campaigners but not pro-vaccine. In Austria, however, most parents do not have a strong interest in vaccine ethics.
Vaccines against sexually transmitted diseases and childhood cancers are required by law in many European countries.
A handful of countries require immunisation for children against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).