Source: The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The alarmingly high cases of measles reported in the month of March in Europe this year made European health authorities as well as governments take notice and implement measures to tackle the spread of the highly contagious disease.
Their efforts have borne fruit and the number of cases of measles reported in April have genereally decreased. A measles monitoring report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in June found that the number of measles cases reported in Europe slid from 2,007 in March to 1,907 in April 2019. However, the decrease, as seen, is marginal and calls for the continued and dedicated efforts by European countries to combat measles.
What are European countries doing to battle measles?
The European Vaccine Action Plan 2015-2020, a European initiative that combats vaccine-preventable diseases by putting in place measures that promote the uptake of vaccines by the general public, has played a huge role in the war against measles. It has helped to alter public perspectives of vaccines and remove barriers to vaccination faced by residents of European countries.
However, trust in vaccines has seen a considerable decrease in the past few years and this decrease was most notably seen in affluent countries – this includes European countries such as France. This loss in trust could seriously affect Europe’s battle against the vaccine-preventable measles.
Some European countries have thus doubled up on their effort to achieve a 100% vaccination status for their residents, since vaccination is the only way of preventing the disease. This includes discouraging the anti-vaxx movement, which has seen a boom in recent years, as well as putting into place strict measures to enforce childhood vaccinations, which play an important role in preventing measles outbreaks.
The ECDC confirmed that unvaccinated young children are at the highest risk of contracting measles, as well as its complications. Thus, encouraging the uptake of the measles or MMR vaccine in children is an effective method of containing the spread of measles in Europe.
Laws enforced to battle measles
In France, trust in vaccines is lower than ever and will only continue to decrease if the trend is left unchecked. Only 37% of the French population agree that vaccines are safe for use and anti-vaxxers in the country have taken advantage of the sentiment against vaccines to push their agendas.
The French government, in response to the high number of measles cases reported in France as well as low vaccine uptake rates, has established a new law that forbids children who have not been vaccinated against measles from attending nurseries and schools.
In Italy, a 2017 law which made it compulsory for children attending schools to be vaccinated, was enforced strictly once again in March 2019 – it was a response to the drastic increase in measles cases caused by a relaxation in vaccination requirements for children in the past year. 300 children in Bologna were banned from kindergarten in March as a result of this law.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn has also proposed enforcing bans from kindergarten as well as fines if parents do not vaccinate their children. The vaccination rate in Germany is currently only 93% and Germany hopes to bring it up to 95%, which will help to prevent outbreaks. The bans and fines are set to take effect in March 2020 and are aimed at discouraging the anti-vaxx movement.
How is England faring in the battle against measles?
The UK, which reported 83 measles cases in March, has not a significant decrease in cases in the month of April, with 79 cases still being reported.
Two doses of the measles vaccine, or MMR as it is better known as, are over 99% effective in preventing measles. Even one dose is 93% effective in preventing the disease.
The vaccine uptake levels in England however, leave much to be improved. Public Health England revealed that only 85.1% of children in London and 91.2% of children in the West Midlands have had even their first dose of the MMR vaccine.
A study conducted by researchers from the Bruno Kessler Foundation and Bocconi University in Italy suggested that although only 3.7% of the English population were susceptible to measles in 2018, the number could increase by more then 50% by 2050 if vaccine laws remain the same.
The only way out of this situation therefore, is to enforce stricter laws and policies that will enforce the vaccination of schoolchildren in England. The introduction of a law calling for the compulsory vaccination of children before they can enrol in school could prove to be useful in the battle against measles.
Measles continues to be a threat in Europe because vaccination coverage in many of its countries is not optimal. The ECDC suggests that vaccination coverage rates must reach at least 95% in all European countries in order for outbreaks such as the ones in March to be prevented.
If you are going to be travelling to a European country or any country that has recently had outbreaks of measles, it is vital that you consult your health professional to get the MMR vaccine a month before you’re due to travel. This is because the two doses of the vaccine need to be given at least 28 days apart.
If you or your child have not been vaccinated against measles yet, remember that vaccination is the only way of preventing the disease and avoiding outbreaks.
Book an appointment with us now to get your MMR shot and advice on how to protect yourself from other travel health risks during your trip.