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With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many - expert comment on rise in European measles cases

Today the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that cases of measles have reached a record high across Europe.
Mapping vaccine confidence issues around the world. Credit: Jon Spaull

Over 41,000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first 6 months of 2018. This number far exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade. Monthly country reports also indicate that at least 37 people have died due to measles so far this year.

Dr Pauline Paterson, Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many, and the numbers of measles cases so far this year is astounding. Measles is a highly infectious disease that can spread rapidly and lead to serious complications - a very high vaccination coverage of 95% is needed for community protection. If the coverage dips below this in certain regions, measles cases can spread and outbreaks can and are occurring.

“While most people vaccinate, some individuals do not. The reasons for non-vaccination can vary from issues of vaccine access, a lack of perceived need to vaccinate, and concerns around the safety of vaccination – in 2016 the Vaccine Confidence Project  found that the European region was the most sceptical in the world on vaccine safety.

“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.

“Firstly, we need to identify the susceptible population – who is not vaccinated? If it’s children that are not being vaccinated, then why not? Do we need to increase access? Do parents have questions or concerns that are not being addressed? Are parents aware of the need for vaccination? If it’s teenagers and young adults that were not vaccinated when younger, then a catch-up programme is needed for them. The communication around the catch up programme needs to be relevant and specific to the teenagers and young adults, highlighting the importance of vaccination and addressing their questions and concerns.”