Measles crisis worsens

MMR vaccine in glass vial

There has been a dramatic surge in measles cases in Europe, placing lives at risk.

According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in the first six months of 2019 there have been nearly 90,000 cases and 37 deaths in 48 European countries. This is the highest number of cases in any year since 2006.

WHO said that there have been as many cases reported to date in 2019 as there were at this same time last year, and referred to a ‘concerning and continuing upsurge in the overall measles disease burden worldwide’.

It also said that the largest outbreaks are in countries with low measles vaccination rates, highlighting the importance of vaccination: without it, people are left vulnerable to the disease. WHO is urging people to ensure their measles vaccinations are up to date ─ two doses are needed to protect against the disease ─ and to check their vaccination status before travelling. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, said vaccines are estimated to save at least two million lives a year.

Albania, Czech Republic, Greece and the UK have had their ‘measles free’ status revoked due to ongoing outbreaks. The UK lost its measles free status in early August due to the recent increase in cases and the persistent presence of one particular strain. “Measles: Four European nations including the UK lose WHO eradication status ─ our message to parents is very clear: the MMR vaccine is safe, it protects your child and other children in your community,” tweeted Welsh politician Vaughan Gething.

The US is also on the verge of losing its elimination status. US politician Sylvia Rodriguez Garcia tweeted about the situation: “The US eliminated measles in 2000. Today, we’re on the verge of losing our elimination status, a danger to the health of our fellow Americans.”

Dr Günter Pfaff, Chair of the European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination (RVC), commented on the gravity of the situation: “Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning.  If high immunisation coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily, and some will tragically die.”

Education is paramount to averting the crisis, and part of this involves teaching of the importance of vaccination on social media, as well as spreading the message to the younger generation. It might take time to dispel the myths about vaccines, but it can and must be done.