Urk (Netherlands) (AFP)
In the coastal village of Urk in the Netherlands, most of the inhabitants retain certain convictions peppered to the body: God, fishing and the refusal to be vaccinated.
Low immunization coverage in June led to a measles epidemic in Urk, in the Protestant and Conservative Bible Belt that runs from south-west to north-east. But the means that are used to try to improve the situation could be school, while the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of an outbreak of measles cases in Europe.
"Currently, the vaccination rate is 60% and it is low compared to the rest of the country.We are penultimate in the Netherlands," says AFP Freek Brouwer, Urk city councilor for health .
The inhabitants of this fishing village on Lake IJssel are conservative Protestants and 94% of the population regularly attend the church where sermons have traditionally condemned television, cinema and ... vaccination.
"The idea is that we can not do it because it's God who takes care of us, it's the same with the insurance," explains Brouwer. Member of the Dutch Christian Democrat Party, he sits on the board of directors of the provincial public health services.
Nowadays, however, religion plays a less important role for vaccines, he says. "Before, it was deeply linked to religious motives and I respect that."
"Now we see that it's more a matter of habits - + Dad and Mom were not vaccinated, why should I be +?", He said. "Reverend and preachers in the churches who oppose it do not preach that, they leave it to the people to decide."
Urk is physically only 80 kilometers from Amsterdam but much further culturally from this liberal capital where prostitution is legal and cannabis is sold openly.
- "God takes care of everything" -
Seventy years ago, Urk was still an island. Since then, she has been attached to the continent after huge projects of drying up but keeps her dialect and her isolated mentality.
When she met the port on a market day, Jacoba Zoer, 37, went shopping with her two sons. "Vaccination is a good thing and I have vaccinated my children," she says.
Asked why the inhabitants of Urk were numerous in refusing vaccines, she explains: "Their religion is against it, they say that God takes care of everything and that + He will save me if I get sick". And she adds that vaccination "is a subject of controversy, not only in Urk".
"My children have been vaccinated, but I think it's a personal matter," says Yvonne Verbaan, 44. "Last week, I read that a boy who had also been vaccinated had epilepsy afterwards and suffered brain damage, which makes you think about whether it's a good thing."
The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment has registered 42 cases of measles in the Netherlands since the beginning of the year, compared to 24 for the whole of 2018.
In 2013-2014, a measles epidemic struck the Dutch "Bible Belt", killing one child, driving 182 to hospital and officially touching 2,700 others. But the numbers were actually much higher, according to official estimates.
- "False information"-
For Mr. Brouwer, the internet is also responsible for spreading ideas against vaccination. "People think that + it is poison, it will cause autism +, a lot of false information".
In June, when nine children and one adult were struck by measles in Urk, many people came to the free vaccination offered by the government, he recalls, not hesitating to speak of "divine surprise" .
"But there are also people I know whose children have been affected and who have not gone to the doctor," he adds, "they said + it will be over in a week or two."
He rejects the idea of making vaccination compulsory, as in Germany. For him, the goal is to better inform parents.
"People must be able to make their own choices based on correct information," he says. "This kind of thing should not be imposed because people will resist it".
In Urk, doctors provide advice to pregnant women, local authorities organize information evenings for parents and distribute a letter with the testimonies of people who have remained disabled by polio before the vaccination program set up by the government.
"We act step by step," insists Mr. Brouwer. "We can not reach a rate of 90% in a year but if we get 10 or 20% more, these are good goals."
© 2019 AFP