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East Europe Measles Outbreak Rolls Into Third Year

Child vaccination rates have fallen dramatically in Ukraine, where 30,000 people have come down with measles this year.

10 September 2018

More than 41,000 people in Europe were infected with measles in the first half of the year, nearly twice as many as in all of 2017. Thirty-seven deaths from measles have been recorded this year.


Eastern and Southern Europe is the hotspot of the measles outbreak that began two years ago. The five countries with the highest incidence rates for the disease are Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, Greece, and Romania, the BBC reports, citing World Health Organization (WHO) data.


Other European countries such as Italy and France have also experienced a large rise in infections.


The outbreak is biggest in absolute terms in Ukraine, which has seen 30,000 cases and 13 deaths this year, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports.


Suspicion of vaccinations appears to be on the rise in countries with the worst measles outbreaks.


Although vaccination rates have been dropping all over Europe, The Economist writes that vaccination rates are lower in Italy and Serbia than they currently are in countries such as Rwanda and Senegal.


Although there is no organized anti-vaccination movement in Europe, many still fear that vaccinations are unsafe. This is partly due to discredited research from 20 years ago that linked the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine to autism, writes the BBC.


According to the WHO, the percentage of children in Ukraine who received both recommended doses of the MMR vaccine dropped from 95 percent to 31 percent between 2008 and 2016.


In the past a shortage of the vaccine has been a problem, especially in Ukraine and Serbia, where supplies have been irregular since 2014. The Ukrainian government is now working with the United Nations in order to boost vaccination rates.


In Romania, where measles has killed 59 people since 2016, several factors have combined to keep the outbreak going: suspicion of vaccinations, irregular supplies of vaccines, and obstacles delivering them to Roma and other marginalized communities, the WSJ says.


Skepticism about vaccinations is also high in France and some other Western European countries,  a 2016 survey by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found.


  • The European Union needs to promote higher vaccination rates and better publicize the evidence for the benefits of vaccination, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told last week. A heated debate on the issue broke out in Italy when the new government tried to reverse the country’s mandatory vaccination law, Euractiv says.


  • The number of measles cases in Europe more than quadrupled from 2016 to 2017, when 23,927 cases were recorded.


  • The United States recorded about 100 measles infections in the first half of this year.


  • In 2016, only 19 percent of Ukrainian children received the third recommended diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP) vaccination and 56 percent of children received the third recommended dose of oral polio vaccine, according to the WHO.



Compiled by Orsolya Liddiard

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