The 35 Europeans lost their lives last year due to the complications of measles, a disease easily preventable with the vaccine. Added to the 34 last year, according to data from the European Center for Disease Control (ECDC), the current outbreak is the deadliest so far this century. From 2016 to 2017 it went from 3,700 to more than 11,000 cases in the continent and coincides with the warning about the disease launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) last November.
The most affected countries in 2018 were Greece (244.6 cases per million inhabitants), Slovakia (96.6), Romania (68.5), France (43.6) and Italy (42). Sources from the ECDC explain that most (80%) of the time the virus came from another European country.
Among the most affected states are some of the richest and poorest in the EU, which gives an idea that the causes for the spread of the virus are varied. Sources of the ECDC remember that measles goes through waves. The previous serious one was in 2010, centered in Bulgaria -22,000 of the 30,000 cases with 21 deaths.
The virus is very contagious, says Antoni Trilla, head of Preventive Medicine at the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona. In an environment of unvaccinated people, a single affected person can transmit it to 10 individuals. “Outbreaks of measles debut in communities where group immunity is lower than necessary,” he explains. Then, the natural mobility of the population is enough to expand if it finds other niches of people who, for whatever reason are not vaccinated.
For example, among the five most affected countries in Europe, Romania and Greece seem to respond to the profile of those who have unvaccinated population because they do not have or did not have a small access to immunizations.
In Italy, says Trilla, the reaction to the policy of the previous government (Left Democrats) to force vaccination led the Five Star Movement, now in power, not only to oppose the order but to revile the utility and security of the vaccines. In France, the anti-vaccine movement has significant support from the medical community, says the Spanish epidemiologist.
There are also cases in people vaccinated, either because they did not follow the full treatment (two injections), or because the immunization has lost its effect with age and the weakening of the immune system. And finally, there is an important group (30% of those infected) of children under one year, because the first dose of vaccine is advised at 12 months. These are usually protected by the so-called group immunization (if those around are vaccinated they can not get it), but if the immunization rate drops by 90% they start to be in danger.
Trilla believes that forcing vaccination is not the solution, but “the worst that can be done”. Despite this, countries like France and Bulgaria have tried. In fact, the European health agency says that in most European countries they do not have enough protected population, especially due to the low application of the second dose.