Twelve months of measles outbreaks in Europe have led to 35 deaths and more than 12,000 confirmed cases. Thirty-one of the measles deaths have occurred in Romania, where years of declining measles-containing vaccine (MCV) coverage is taking its toll. For 2015, the World Health Organization estimates two-dose MCV coverages at 88% of Romanian children, down from a high of 97% coverage in 2003. Measles remains endemic in 14 European countries. In most countries experiencing outbreaks this year, measles immunization rates are much lower than the 95% coverage needed to support herd immunity.
Italy alone has recorded 3,300 confirmed cases of measles and one death this year to date – the last time the United States, obviously a much larger country, recorded more cases was in 1991, the year of a major epidemic.
Other measles deaths have occurred in Germany and Portugal this year.
Lawmakers and health officials in European countries have begun to respond: in Germany, legislation is pending that would fine parents for not seeking compulsory advice on child immunization. Italian health officials have made immunization against 12 childhood diseases mandatory for public school attendance. In France, where currently children must be immunized only against diphtheria, tetanus, and polio, 11 childhood vaccines—including MCV—will become mandatory in 2018.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, about 70 measles cases have occurred in 2017 in an under-vaccinated Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis. In 2016, a total of 70 cases were reported in the entire country.
**Correction: This post was updated in August 2017 to correct an error: I originally wrote that the 35 European deaths occurred in 2017, but the WHO report states that the deaths occurred in the 12-month period before the publication of its July 11, 2017, report.
CDC. Summary of notifiable diseases. MMWR. October 21, 1994.
Gallagher J. Measles tragedy kills 35 across Europe. BBC News. July 11, 2017.
Hirini R. France to make 11 vaccine compulsory in 2018. SBS.com. July 6, 2017.
Italy makes 12 vaccines mandatory for school children. Independent.co.uk. May 20, 2017.
Meldung fehlender Impfberatungen durch Kitas im Bundestag beschlossen. Impfbrief.de. June 2, 2017.
Minnesota’s measles outbreak about to exceed total 2016 cases. TwinCities.com. May 26, 2017.
World Health Organization. Measles outbreaks across Europe threaten progress toward elimination. March 28, 2017.
World Health Organization. WHO vaccine-preventable disease: monitoring system. 2017 global coverage. Data retrieved July 11, 2017.