With more than 22,000 measles cases reported from seven European countries in the past 14 months, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on policy-makers, health care workers and parents immediately to step up vaccination against measles across age groups at risk.

European Union/CIA
European Union/CIA

Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia Federation, Georgia, Italy, Germany and Kazakhstan collectively accounted for 22,149 measles cases (predominately measles genotype D8) threatening the Region’s goal of eliminating the disease by the end of 2015.

“When we consider that over the past two decades we have seen a reduction of 96% in the number of measles cases in the European Region, and that we are just a step away from eliminating the disease, we are taken aback by these numbers. We must collectively respond, without further delay, to close immunization gaps,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years’ efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time.”

Measles outbreaks continue to occur in Europe because there are pockets of susceptible people who are un- or underimmunized, particularly as growing numbers of parents either refuse to vaccinate their children or face barriers in accessing vaccination. Travel can increase the risk of exposure to measles virus and its spread into susceptible populations who are not vaccinated.

“The priority is now to control current outbreaks in all affected countries through immunization activities targeting people at risk,” concludes Dr Nedret Emiroglu, Deputy Director of the Division of Communicable Diseases, Health Security and Environment at the WHO Regional Office for Europe. “At the same time, all countries, with no exception, need to keep a very high coverage of regular measles vaccination, so that similar outbreaks won’t happen again in our Region, and measles can be eliminated once and for all.”