Healthcare Minister Venko Filipce has threatened criminal charges against people who discourage vaccination through social media. A move to declare a measles epidemic in Skopje, after a dozen new cases, sparked heated arguments on social media, especially given a recent flat-footed PR campaign by Filipce which further deepened anxiety over vaccination.

Filipce said that during the current push to vaccinate children nearly a 1.000 families took their children for vaccination, after they faced being expelled from kindergarten. But, this still leaves more than 10.000 children without the MMR vaccine.

Parents are afraid of autism and they wait for their children to start walking and talking before they vaccinate them. Nearly half of the unvaccinated children are in the category of up to a year, said Filipce in an interview.

The Minister also assured the public that the vaccines are safe and were not necessarily bought from the lowest bidder. Over the past years, Filipce’s party SDSM frequently accused the then ruling VMRO-DPMNE party of all sorts of irregularities with the procurement of vaccines and raised concers over their safety, which had an effect on the public.

A move by Filipce in September, during the failed referendum to rename Macedonia, added to the concerns. His Ministry shared social media pictures and put up billboards asking the public to show up and vote in the referendum, promising that the vaccines will be of the highest quality after the country joins the EU. This sparked alarm from worried citizens asking whether it means that the vaccines currently in use are not safe.