Over 41,000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first 6 months of 2018. This is more than the whole of each year this decade. Monthly country reports also indicate that at least 37 people have died due to measles so far this year.
In 2017 there were 23,927 cases and the year before 5,273. Experts blame this rise in infections on a reduction in the number of people being vaccinated.
The MMR vaccine prevents infection but due to discredited research 20 years ago which linked MMR to autism has caused some people to not trust the vaccine and therefore not use it.
The NHS recommends all children receive the MMR around their first birthday and then just before starting school.
The measles virus is exceptionally contagious and spreads easily among susceptible individuals. To prevent outbreaks, at least 95% immunisation coverage with 2 doses of measles-containing vaccine is needed every year in every community, as well as efforts to reach children, adolescents and adults who missed routine vaccination in the past.
Seven countries in the Region have seen over 1,000 infections in children and adults this year. Ukraine has been hit the hardest, with over 23,000 people affected; over half the regional total. Measles-related deaths have been reported in all of these countries, with Serbia reporting the highest number of 14.
According to the latest assessment by the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC), released today, 43 of the Region’s 53 Member States have interrupted the endemic spread of measles and 42 have interrupted rubella (based on 2017 reporting).
At the same time, the RVC expressed concerns about inadequate disease surveillance and low immunisation coverage in some countries.
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe said, “Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks. We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunisation, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments.”
Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe said, “This partial setback demonstrates that every person who is not immune remains vulnerable no matter where they live, and every country must keep pushing to increase coverage and close immunity gaps, even after achieving interrupted or eliminated status.”