Measles, a highly contagious disease once thought all but eradicated in the developed world, is making a comeback, and it’s all thanks to anti-immunization efforts in recent years, says a recent report from the World Health Organization which says a record number of measles cases were reported in Europe in 2018, due in part to growing pockets of the population where parents are refusing to immunize their children.
“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,” the report states.
The report comes as both Canada and the United States face another year of measles outbreaks such as one currently underway in Washington State and Oregon, where support for anti-vaccination has been notable. In Canada, a Vancouver man was diagnosed this past Thursday with the virus but is said to have passed the period during which it is considered infectious.
In Toronto, public health authorities last week warned that some travellers through Pearson International Airport on January 27 may have been exposed to measles.
Below: ‘This is ridiculous’: Measles outbreak in Europe
The WHO report on measles in Europe found that the virus killed 72 children and adults in the European Region in 2018, while 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles, a number which is the highest it has been this decade.
At the same time, 2018 followed a year in which Europe achieved its highest-ever coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination at the national level, showing that gaps at subnational levels are to blame for the disease’s resurfacing.
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“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, Director of the WHO’s Regional Office for Europe in Copenhagen.
Since 2010, immunization coverage has dropped in 12 European Union countries, while seven out of the ten countries with the lowest vaccine confidence in the world are in Europe. In Italy, where the current governing coalition had pledged to drop a law banning children without vaccination from starting pre-school (the coalition has since reversed its position), health officials have declared a ‘measles emergency,’ as almost one quarter of all measles cases in Europe in 2017 were reported in Italy.