Today marks the start of the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Immunisation Week, with the HSE warming that not getting the MMR vaccine could cause deaths in Ireland due to large measles outbreaks and related deaths in Europe.
Many European countries are reporting measles outbreaks. The highest number of cases in 2018 were in Romania (1,709), Greece (1,463) France (1,346) and Italy (411) respectively. Thirteen deaths have also been reported by these countries in 2018.
Cases in Romania and Greece remain high, but France and Italy are of particular concern, with cases almost tripling in France since March 2018, and more than doubling in Italy, according to Dr Brenda Corcoran, head of the HSE National Immunisation Office.
“In Ireland we are experiencing our own outbreaks with 65 cases reported so far this year. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases. One case of measles can infect up to 18 people. It is spread by coughing and sneezing, and by close contact with an infected individual. As we enter the summer season with families and individuals travelling on holidays, no person or country is beyond the reach of the measles virus.
“The only protection against measles is the MMR vaccine. Two doses of MMR vaccine (at 12 months and 4-5 years of age) are required to be fully protected. While uptake in Ireland has remained steady at around 92 per cent, we need to increase uptake rates to the target of 95 per cent to make sure that measles does not circulate here. This is important for everybody but is particularly vital to protect young babies as they cannot receive the MMR vaccine until they are 12 months old. They are vulnerable to complications, including death if they are exposed to measles infection.
“Vaccines save lives and protect against serious illness. Due to good vaccine uptake, we have thankfully not seen outbreaks of other infectious diseases in Ireland that we witnessed in the past but we must not let complacency creep in. We must remember vaccines are a simple, effective and safe way to save lives and prevent serious illness,” said Dr Corcoran.
For further information, the public may be directed to www.immunisation.ie, the only WHO-accredited website providing up accurate accessible vaccine information.