ECDC data show that up to 80% of teenagers and young adults who contracted measles in 2017 had not been vaccinated. ECDC analysis of sub-national data indicates that even countries with high overall levels of vaccine coverage may have groups that are unvaccinated. In recent and ongoing measles outbreaks, ECDC’s recent rapid risk assessment identifies healthcare workers as among those affected.
This information can prompt targeted actions in specific areas to identify unvaccinated individuals, increase coverage rates and carry out response activities.
ECDC Director, Dr Andrea Ammon said: “It is essential that teenagers and young adults check their vaccination status as we are seeing a recurring pattern in measles outbreaks where they are being affected”. She continued, “Countries may need to consider catch up campaigns to close vaccination gaps in teenagers and young adults”.
All countries in the EU/EEA have routine measles vaccination programs in place targeting children and these programs should be fully implemented. Due to an increasing number of cases among teenagers and young adults, catch-up programs for individuals who have missed vaccination or for those who were too old to have been targeted by routine programs exist in a number of countries and could be considered in other countries.
EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis said: “We must all sit up and pay attention to ECDC’s data and analysis on the spread of measles in Europe. Measles is gaining pace in an increasing number of EU countries. This demonstrates that vaccine-preventable infectious diseases do not respect borders and one country’s immunization weakness puts the whole Union at risk. Cooperating in this area is in all our interests. The Commission will this week put forward an initiative for strengthened cooperation against vaccine preventable diseases, calling for joint action to increase vaccination coverage and ensure that everyone in the EU has access to vaccination, thus bridging inequalities and gaps in immunization”.
Unvaccinated infants : six times higher risk to die from measles
Not only can measles cause severe complications in adults, it is infants who are the most affected, as they cannot be vaccinated and have a six-fold risk of death according to analysis of ECDC data from 2013-2017 of this age group. Infants can only be protected through so-called ‘herd immunity’, which is when 95% of the population in a country are vaccinated with two doses of measles vaccine.
During European Immunization Week (23-27 April), ECDC publishes data and analysis on the serious and escalating measles situation in many EU countries. Between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2017, 14 600 cases of measles were reported by EU/EEA countries which was more than triple the number reported in 2016. Within the broader European region the number of measles cases quadrupled from 2016 to 2017. Most cases were reported by Romania (5 608) , Italy, (5 098), Greece (967) and Germany (929), accounting, respectively, for 38%, 35%, 7% and 6% of all cases reported by EU/EEA countries. Thirty-seven deaths due to measles were reported during 2017; with 26 in Romania, four in Italy, two in Greece, and one each in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Portugal and Spain. ECDC’s monthly measles surveillance report released in April 2018 provides an update on the latest situation across EU/EEA countries.