Written by By Martin Wainwright, CNN
For Joachim Gauck, writing the last sentence of his special report on vaccination was “the most difficult assignment of my lifetime.”
His report on the massive measles outbreak in Berlin is not based on prejudice, rather a recognition that Germany’s sophisticated health system was unable to protect its citizens from one of the world’s most serious childhood infections.
“‘There is no vaccine,’ Merkel told a meeting of doctors and nurses at the chancellery in Berlin on Thursday,’ to huge applause,” the German broadcaster ARD reports. “She declared: ‘The vaccination myth is alive and well’ and promised to do everything she could to get children immunized.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been criticized for encouraging parents to keep their children home from school rather than vaccinate them. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Merkel told the participants that she was “pained” to see cases of measles, which is highly contagious and has a mortality rate as high as 30%.
“There are great dangers in the fact that some people still refuse vaccination,” the German Chancellor said. “My preference is always that parents protect their children, I am against a one-size-fits-all solution.
“The vaccination is the greatest gift we can give children. Our goal should be to get every child vaccinated.”
Merkel appealed to doctors and parents to fight the “myth” that vaccines cause autism. She said vaccines were just as safe as previously believed.
“I am convinced that scientific knowledge will ultimately solve the vaccination myths,” Merkel said.
The fact that children had not been immunized, the Chancellor continued, showed that “there was a gap between government policy and opinion.”
She called on doctors and parents to work together to implement a vaccine bill drafted by members of the Bundestag that could force schoolchildren in immunization zones to stay away from class.
Recent public opinion polls suggest that more than half of Germans have forgotten about the dangers of measles. Earlier this year the most comprehensive survey on vaccinations in the country’s history found that half of all citizens believe vaccines are safe, and the same number said they were unsure whether immunization was effective.
“During the  national elections, Merkel’s Christian Democrats were outpolled by the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party by about 30 percentage points,” German website Tagesspiegel reports.