WHO notes record number of people with measles in Europe in 2018, even with increased immunization

(Eagle News) — The World Health Organization said that a “record number of people” were also affected by measles even in Europe last year, even as it noted increased vaccination of children that year.

In a report, WHO is urging European countries to address the “immunization gaps” by targeted interventions as it noted that measles killed 72 children and adults in the European Region last year, and the virus infected more than 82,000 people in the region.

This record number in 2018 is the “highest this decade” and was thrice the total reported in 2017, the global health organization said.

“More children in the WHO European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before; but progress has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, and resulting in a record number of people affected by the virus in 2018,” it said.

A close-up of a photo of a child with measles in Romania. (PHoto grabbed from AFP video/courtesy AFP)

“In light of measles data for the year 2018 released today, WHO urges European countries to target their interventions to those places and groups where immunization gaps persist,” it said in a recent report.

Based on the monthly country reports from January to December 2018, 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries in the European Region contracted measles.

In countries reporting hospitalization data, WHO said nearly 2/3 or 61% of measles cases were hospitalized.

“The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade: 3 times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016,” it said.

“The surge in measles cases in 2018 followed a year in which the European Region achieved its highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination (90% in 2017),” the WHO report said.

“More children in the Region received the full two-dose series on time, according to their countries’ immunization schedules, in 2017 than in any year since WHO started collecting data on the second dose in 2000,” it said.

Coverage with the first dose of the vaccine also increased slightly to 95%, which is the highest level since 2013.

But WHO said progress in the European Region based on achievements at the national level “can still mask gaps at subnational levels which are often not recognized until outbreaks occur.”

“The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunization rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation. While data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease. This means that gaps at local level still offer an open door to the virus,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab.

“We cannot achieve healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO’s vision for the coming five years, if we do not work locally. We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided.”