21 October 2021

A Glimpse Into the Italian Debate on Vaccinations

21 October 2021 - Written by Laurence Cornet

For two years, Italian photographer Francesco Andreoli has been investigating the reasons why vaccines are at the center of a very virulent debate in his native Italy. His survey points to a diversity of experiences.

Long before the recent wave of protests against the vaccines that protect from SARS-CoV-2, vaccines have been at the center of a bitter controversy opposing pros and cons. When, in June 2017, Italy passed a decree that requires children to be vaccinated for entry into school, it was met with a public outcry all over the country.

The son of a nurse, Italian photographer Francesco Andreoli started to hear many stories of people afraid of vaccines and grew intrigued with the reasons that would push people to oppose the use of vaccines or question their safety. “I was curious to know where this fear comes from”, he explains. A fear so strong it triggers violent reactions: “The 2017 decree followed the successful petition launched by one of the people I photographed. Since then, she has received a lot of dead threats”, Andreoli says.

His investigation is as neutral as the visual language he uses: frontal and factual. Eager to understand all points of view, he met with researchers and activists, all sharing a different experience and opinion - an unvaccinated girl who believes that contemporary medicine is based on the use of vaccines to weaken the immune system, thus making people life-long customers for pharmaceutical companies; a lawyer specialized in medical malpractice who is convinced that one of the causes of his son's disorder may have been the vaccination; the woman who fought for the reintroduction of compulsory vaccination within schools after her newborn daughter contracted whooping cough.

“In the beginning, I thought the topic was divided into only two sides – no-vax and pro-vax - and I realize now that there is no clear division between pros and cons. In the end, the stories are all different, and when people say they have been harmed by vaccines, they can never prove it scientifically”, Andreoli explains.

Patiently, he collected all these stories in the form of portraits and texts. Additionally, he has included other elements: an archive engraving from the first vaccine inoculation to give a timeframe to the issue; still-life photographs of vaccine syringes and boxes to introduce the pharmaceutical industry factor; and recently, he added some Covid-19 pandemic elements. Never yet does he judge: “I’m trying to be as objective as I can. When people understand this they are available. That’s the only way you can talk with some people”, he says. Surgically and meticulously, he exhumed a 250 year-old-issue that’s still very vivid today.


All photos © Francesco Andreoli, from the series (UN)VAXXED


Francesco Andreoli is a documentary photographer based in Florence, Italy. He has a background in Computer Science Engineering but decided to change career and follow his passion for visual storytelling. Follow him on Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Paris focusing on cultural and environmental issues. She is also the editorial director of Dysturb and the international photo editor at Le Monde.


This article is part of our feature series Photo Kernel, which aims to give space to the best contemporary practitioners in our community. The word Kernel means the core, centre, or essence of an object, but it also refers to image processing.

Written by

Laurence Cornet

Reading time

4 minutes

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