Measles cases are skyrocketing in Europe and the disease is surging in four countries previously considered to have eliminated it, including the U.K., the World Health Organization (WHO) warned yesterday, urging countries to step up vaccination efforts. "Re-establishment of measles transmission is concerning. If high immunization coverage is not achieved and sustained in every community, both children and adults will suffer unnecessarily and some will tragically die," warned Gunter Pfaff, the head of the WHO's European Regional Verification Commission for Measles and Rubella Elimination.
The WHO said there were 89,994 cases of measles in European countries in the first six months of 2019, more than double the number in the same period in 2018 when there were 44,175 cases, and already more than the 84,462 cases reported for all of 2018.
Measles claimed 37 lives in Europe between January and June of this year. Nearly 80% of infections in that period occurred in the four Eastern European countries of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Russia. While the disease is highly contagious, it can be entirely prevented through a two-dose vaccine, but the WHO has in recent months sounded the alarm over vaccination rates. Outbreaks also occur because health authorities do not reach all population groups equally, the U.N. health agency added, referring to two studies on measles among the Roma minorities in France and Greece.