The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a concerning warning about a staggering 4,300% rise in measles cases across Europe. In 2023, 42,200 cases were reported in 41 out of 53 member states, compared to 941 cases in 2022. The majority of infections, two in five, occurred in children aged one to four, while one in five affected individuals were 20 years and older. Tragically, nine children have died, with almost 21,000 hospitalized.
WHO attributes this alarming surge to declining measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination rates and increased travel after the COVID-19 pandemic, facilitating the spread of the disease across borders. Measles can lead to lifelong disabilities and death, affecting the lungs and brain and causing pneumonia, meningitis, blindness, and seizures.
Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director, emphasizes the urgency of vaccination efforts to curb transmission and prevent further spread. The countries with the highest measles cases in 2023 were Kazakhstan, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Romania, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Tajikistan, and the UK.
In response to the rising cases, a campaign encourages parents to ensure their children receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The first dose is offered at age one, with the second at three years and four months, just before starting school. A catch-up campaign is available for those who missed any jabs.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident due to the growing public health risk. Vaccination rates, especially in regions like London and the West Midlands, have dropped, raising concerns. Professor Dame Jenny Harries, head of UKHSA, emphasizes the seriousness of measles and the need for concerted action, as vaccination rates are at their lowest point in over a decade. The R number for measles is notably higher than for COVID-19, requiring over 90% population immunity to prevent a surge in cases.
The UKHSA’s declaration reflects the urgent need for public health interventions to curb the growing threat posed by measles, emphasizing the importance of vaccination in preventing its spread.