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.
“Following the decade’s lowest number of cases in 2016, we are seeing a dramatic increase in infections and extended outbreaks,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “We call on all countries to immediately implement broad, context-appropriate measures to stop further spread of this disease. Good health for all starts with immunization, and as long as this disease is not eliminated we are failing to live up to our Sustainable Development Goal commitments.”
Seven countries in the Region have seen over 1000 infections in children and adults this year (France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine). 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.
And where anti-vaccine sentiment has taken root -- such as in Italy -- measles is generally the first disease to manifest given its contagiousness, according to Heidi Larson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Italy's anti-establishment government recently passed a new amendment that suspends a law requiring parents to provide proof that their children received a series of 10 vaccines -- including the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine -- when enrolling them in nurseries and preschools.
"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.
France and Romania, along with Italy, are among European countries with the highest anti-vaccine sentiment, where around 20% of the population believes vaccines are unsafe.
The infamous Wakefield study pubished in 1998 stated that the MMR vaccine caused autism in children who received the vaccine. The results of the study turned out to be untrue and Andrew Wakefield, one of the authors of the study, had his medical license revoked.
Despite the medical fraud, the myth persists, and many vaccine skeptics still believe their children will develop autism if they are immunized.