More than 41,000 children and adults contracted measles in the European region from January to June — almost double the number of people infected with measles for all of 2017.
Last year was a record high for measles cases, with 23,927 people becoming infected in Europe that year, but numbers this year have already exceeded those figures. In 2016 there was a yearly total of 5,273 cases of measles.
“The current outbreaks threaten the lives of children and adults, and put the progress that has been made so far at risk,” said Dr. Mark Muscat, technical officer with the vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization program at the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe.
“This is an unnecessary and unacceptable tragedy when we have a safe and effective vaccine available to prevent the disease.”
Ukraine was the hardest hit among the 53 European countries covered in the WHO analysis, with more than 23,000 cases so far in 2018.
Six other countries in the region — Italy, Greece, Georgia, Russia, Serbia and France — have recorded more than 1,000 infections in adults and children in 2018.
Serbia reported 14 deaths related to the disease this year, the highest number of any country included. Thirty-seven people have died across Europe, according to WHO.
“This partial setback demonstrates that every under-immunized person 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,” said Dr. Nedret Emiroglu, director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO.
“If the coverage dips below [95%] in certain regions, measles cases can spread and outbreaks can and are occurring,” said Dr. Pauline Paterson, co-director of the Vaccine Confidence team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
“While most people vaccinate, some individuals do not. Firstly, we need to identify the susceptible population — who is not vaccinated? If it’s children that are not being vaccinated, then why not?”
“Now, children who are not vaccinated will endanger other children at school who are too small for vaccines or cannot be vaccinated because they suffer from immunosuppressive diseases,” said Dr. Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at San Raffaele University in Milan.
Despite the surge, the WHO remains hopeful about stopping the spread of measles, and has vowed to work more closely with European countries to tackle the issue, promising response measures such as enhanced immunization and better monitoring.
A large part of any effort to interrupt measles’ spread in Europe should entail understanding why people refuse to get vaccinated, said Paterson.
“In 2016 the Vaccine Confidence Project found that the European region was the most skeptical in the world on vaccine safety,” said Paterson.
“Vaccines work. If measles is to be eliminated, we must continue to further our understanding of the underlying reasons for non-vaccination and to address them with effective, evidence-based interventions.”
News credit : Cnn