Europe's apparent farewell to measles eradication

Is the WHO’s wake-up call going unheard?

In the past two years, there have been repeated measles outbreaks throughout Europe. This is due to insufficient vaccination coverage. Is Europe now saying goodbye to measles eradication or can this achievement still be saved?

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has just published the measles data for 2018 for European countries, with a disastrous testimony regarding the vaccination coverage necessary to curb measles. In some regions, the problem of the measles epidemics recurrence is already so great that the WHO calls on Europe as a whole to concentrate vaccination interventions on places and groups that are still characterized by large vaccination gaps and are therefore vulnerable to measles.

In Europe, 72 children and adults died of measles infection in 2018. Last year, a total of 82,596 people in 47 of the 53 European countries were infected with measles. According to the WHO, this is widespread and no longer a problem for individual states.

At the same time, the total number of people infected with measles in 2018 for the entire current decade has been the highest so far. Expressed in figures, this means that in 2018 three times more people were infected with measles than in 2017. Compared to 2016, there were even 15 times more people last year.

It is interesting to note that the measles levels in 2018 increased so strongly, despite the fact that the highest coverage with the second dose of the measles vaccine (90%) since 2017 has been achieved in the whole of Europe. The coverage with the first vaccine dose also increased to currently about 95%. So why these high infection rates anyway?

It is noticeable that progress varies from region to region. Both between EU countries and within different regions of a country, inconsistent vaccination rates can be measured. As a result, groups are increasingly emerging regionally, consisting of unprotected persons who are at the same time at risk of infection. According to the WHO, this led to this record number of measles cases in 2018.

Vaccinations in all European countries are a highly emotionally charged area of tension and the fronts of advocates and opponents of vaccination are regarded as hardened. Nevertheless, and this was the WHO's original plan, measles should be eradicated by 2020, following the example of smallpox. This goal will clearly be missed, but vaccination rates of 90% to 95% are a good starting point to stick to the goal of eradication in principle.

In particular, pediatricians and doctors targeting young age groups as well as family doctors are the main advisors and vaccinators here and should, therefore, focus more on the topic of vaccinations and measles vaccination in particular.

Source: World Health Organization - European Region. Press release. Measles in Europe: Record number of both sick and immunized. 7 February 2019

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