By John Jalsevac

BELGIUM, March 14, 2008 ( – Two sets of parents in Belgium who have refused to vaccinate their children for polio have been sentenced to five months in prison for their crime, reports the AP.

The parents, however, may yet avoid jail time, as their sentences have been delayed so as to give them one last chance to vaccinate their children. If they do not meet this last deadline, then they will serve the time in prison. The parents have also received a hefty €4,100 fine.

The polio vaccine is currently the only legally mandated vaccine in Belgium. The only other country in the world that requires the vaccine is France.

Dr. Victor Lusayu, head of Belgium’s international vaccine centre, said, “Polio is a very serious disease and has caused great suffering in the past. The discovery of the vaccine has eliminated polio from Europe and it is simply the law in Belgium that you have to be vaccinated. … At the end of the day, the law must be respected.”

Due to privacy laws, it has not been revealed why the parents have refused to vaccinate their children. However, vaccination has long been a subject of health and ethical concern for parents, especially since the discovery that numerous vaccines, including several versions of the polio vaccine, are made using tissue from aborted fetuses. Some ethicists argue that by knowingly using such vaccines, one is cooperating with the grave crime of abortion.

It is unclear whether or not Belgium’s polio vaccine has been tainted with fetal tissue. 

Various other groups argue that long-term health concerns for children who have received vaccinations have not been adequately addressed, with some claiming that vaccination can lead to cancer or autism, though such a link has not been definitively established. Others point out that the immediate side effects of many vaccinations, are enough to warrant concern. According to the CDC, however, the polio vaccine has no significant short-term side-effects, barring an allergic reaction.

“It’s a pretty extraordinary case,” said Dr. Ross Upshur, director of the Joint Centre for Bioethics at the University of Toronto about the recent case in Belgium. “The Belgians have a right to take some action against the parents, given the seriousness of polio, but the question is, is a prison sentence disproportionate?”

According to the WHO, there have only been three confirmed cases of polio in Belgium since 1980.

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