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expert reaction to measles cases in Europe

The WHO announced that over 41,000 people in the WHO European Region had been infected with measles in the first half of 2018; and a Public Health England update said that there were 828 confirmed cases of measles in England between 1 January and 13 August 2018.


Prof Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said:

“The latest European figures on measles provide a stark reminder of the seriousness of this infection even in high income countries in the 21st Century.  It is appalling that at least 37 people have died in Europe this year from a completely preventable disease and, although no deaths have so far been reported, in England there have been over 800 cases.  MMR is a safe, effective and readily available vaccine to prevent this highly infectious disease.  While overall MMR uptake rates in the UK are generally high among young children, there are still pockets of lower uptake and some young people missed out on their vaccination when they were toddlers.  Fortunately, it is never too late to catch up and I would urge people who have not had the two doses of MMR needed for best protection, or are not sure, to go to their GP and be vaccinated.  This is particularly important if you are going on a European holiday and for children before they go back to school or start university.”


Prof Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can lead to extremely serious complications for some of those affected.  There has been a safe and effective vaccine to protect against measles since 1968, which has revolutionised the health of our children and saved many lives.  The number of cases in the UK dropped from almost half a million per year before the vaccine was introduced to the hundreds each year now.  Most of the benefits have been via the triple measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine that is proven to be safe and effective in innumerable studies.

“However, to ensure that our communities benefit from continued protection against measles, both the UK and our European neighbours need to keep vaccination rates high.  Children should routinely receive two vaccines against measles as part of the MMR vaccine, at 1 year of age and again as a pre-school booster (soon after the 3rd birthday).  The World Health Organization recommends levels of 95% coverage at these time points to ensure measles outbreaks don’t occur.  England’s coverage currently stands at 92% of children receiving the first MMR vaccine by their second birthday, with 88% receiving the second vaccine by their fifth birthday.  We should be doing better.

“The UK is a world leader in vaccine research and we need to ensure that this excellence is reflected in the provision of vaccines to our children to prevent disease, with Government, NHS and local authorities working together to achieve this.  This not only protects the children themselves, but also people in our communities who are vulnerable because of health problems.

“Parents who are concerned should talk to their GP in the first instance.  If you or your child has missed out on the benefits of vaccination, it’s not too late.  Get vaccinated.  Don’t regret it by waiting to catch one of these diseases.”


Assistant Professor Pauline Paterson, co-director of The Vaccine Confidence Project team, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“With a vaccine preventable disease, one case is one too many, and the numbers of measles cases so far this year is astounding.  Measles is a highly infectious disease that can spread rapidly and lead to serious complications – a very high vaccination coverage of 95% is needed for community protection.  If the coverage dips below this in certain regions, measles cases can spread and outbreaks can and are occurring.

“While most people vaccinate, some individuals do not.  The reasons for non-vaccination can vary from issues of vaccine access, a lack of perceived need to vaccinate, and concerns around the safety of vaccination – in 2016 the Vaccine Confidence Project found that the European region was the most sceptical in the world on vaccine safety.

“Vaccines work.  If measles is to be eliminated, we must continue to further our understanding of the underlying reasons for non-vaccination and to address them with effective evidence-based interventions.

“Firstly, we need to identify the susceptible population – who is not vaccinated?  If it’s children that are not being vaccinated, then why not?  Do we need to increase access?  Do parents have questions or concerns that are not being addressed?  Are parents aware of the need for vaccination?  If it’s teenagers and young adults that were not vaccinated when younger, then a catch-up programme is needed for them.  The communication around the catch up programme needs to be relevant and specific to the teenagers and young adults, highlighting the importance of vaccination and addressing their questions and concerns.”




Declared interests

Prof Helen Bedford: “No conflicts of interest.”

Prof Peter Openshaw: “Prof Peter Openshaw’s research is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC and the European Union. He has received honoraria or consultancy fees from GSK, Janssen, and Mucosis BV.”

None others received.

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