You would think that the deaths of 39 children from measles in a single year would send parents running to have their children vaccinated. The measles vaccine is extremely effective at preventing this potentially dangerous illness.
Those deaths happened in Europe, from July 2016 to July 2017, the result of increasing numbers of parents deciding against the vaccine for their children. There were thousands of cases of measles across the continent.
Despite the tragedy, this got even worse afterward. Europe set a record for measles cases this year, only halfway into 2018, the World Health Organization reports:
Over 41 000 children and adults in the WHO European Region have been infected with measles in the first 6 months of 2018. The total number for this period far exceeds the 12-month totals reported for every other year this decade. So far, the highest annual total for measles cases between 2010 and 2017 was 23 927 for 2017, and the lowest was 5273 for 2016. Monthly country reports also indicate that at least 37 people have died due to measles so far this year.
Since then, NBC News reports, the number of deaths has risen to at least 40.
Public health officials say that measles vaccination rates should be at 95 percent to avoid outbreaks. According to a map by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, most of the European nations that report their vaccination rates have levels below that (see map above), and a few nations including France have rates below 85 percent.
The numbers have public health officials worried about the implications for children in this country.
American children appear to do somewhat better on vaccinations, according to an October 2018 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but at 94.3 percent, still fall slightly below the level considered necessary to avoid outbreaks.
In addition, the number of U.S. parents not fully vaccinating their children is rising at a worrisome rate. A recent report by the CDC shows that the number of children ages 19 to 35 months who receive no vaccinations whatsoever has increased fourfold since 2001. Of great concern are population pockets with extremely low vaccination rates, such as the Somali community of Minnesota that was stricken with dozens of cases of measles in 2017, almost all of them children. Many of them needed hospitalization.
Meanwhile, the relatively low vaccination rates across Europe indicate that unvaccinated people are not safe from the disease, WHO officials 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,” says Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases at the WHO Regional Office for Europe.”
The report indicated that seven European countries have seen at least 1,000 cases of measles, including France and Italy.
Ukraine has been the hardest hit, with over 23 000 people affected; this accounts for over half of the regional total. Measles-related deaths have been reported in all of these countries, with Serbia reporting the highest number of 14.
The WHO report serves as yet another reminder that measles is not a mild childhood disease. If developed countries with good medical systems such as France and Italy experience deaths from measles, it can happen anywhere. Including here.
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