European Health Officials Cope With Measles Outbreaks, Lower Vaccination Rates

January 09, 2009 10:27 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Measles has become more prevalent in Europe as parents skip the vaccination due to autism concerns, a problem American public health officials have been dealing with.

Worries Grow With Increased Measles Cases

In the last two years, more than 12,000 people in Europe have gotten measles, according to a Lancet study, Bloomberg said. The increase in cases, especially among children, is thought to be due to parents who have not vaccinated their children against the disease because of fears that the shot causes autism. That link has not been proven through scientific research.

The World Health Organization had hoped to completely eradicate measles from Europe by 2010, but to do that, vaccination rates have to be 95 percent in every country, Bloomberg reports.

“If we don’t achieve 95 percent coverage, it seems like we will never achieve the goal,” Mark Muscat, an epidemiologist at Copenhagen’s Statens Serum Institut, told Bloomberg.

Countries with rates lower than 90 percent included the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Romania, Bloomberg said. Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia have vaccination rates higher than 95 percent.

Concern over autism have contributed to lowered vaccination rates in the United States, also. American public health officials have called attention to a decrease in vaccination rates, and some recent measles outbreaks have been connected to people who have recently arrived from Europe.

For example, officials in Suffolk County, N.Y. issued an alert in August about a teenager who was infected with measles visited a mall. The girl didn’t know she had the disease, according to WCBS, but was “highly contagious” when she was out in public.

“According to state health officials, the 13-year-old girl was never immunized and was infected with measles after traveling through Europe,” WCBS said.

Context: Immunization Alliance Urges Vaccinations

There have already been measles outbreaks in several U.S. cities, and nearly half of the cases involved children whose parents had refused to vaccinate them because they believe vaccines can cause autism in children. Many of the cases were traced to measles outbreaks overseas.

“The ongoing measles outbreaks in several states are testimony that those who forgo vaccinations are vulnerable to infection from imported disease, and can pose a significant health risk for their communities,” said American Medical Association board member Dr. Ardis Hoven, an infectious disease specialist, according to the Associated Press.

Government data shows that more than 77 percent of toddlers have gotten their shots, but that leaves almost one-fourth of all toddlers unvaccinated against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella. While some, including parents of autistic children, have suggested a tie between the vaccine for those three diseases (the MMR vaccine) and autism, scientific studies have never shown a link.

The coalition of doctors’ groups, known as the Immunization Alliance, has endorsed a Call to Action to enlist health professionals, the public, the media and the government in supporting immunizations.

MarketWatch reports that “The Alliance says many young parents have never seen these diseases, so they question the need for the vaccines. Pediatricians are hearing from parents who fear that their children are receiving too many vaccines, and recent inaccurate media reports have helped to fuel their concerns.” The group says that without vaccines, epidemics could cause loss of life, or severe loss of quality of life due to complications from diseases.

Background: Vaccine fears, measles outbreaks

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number of measles cases had risen to 131 so far in 2008, more than triple the number reported in 2007. In none of those cases has anyone died from the highly infectious disease.

The CDC said that roughly half of the cases occurred because parents refused to vaccinate their children. Some parents believe the measles shot or a vaccine preservative which contains mercury causes autism, but officials say there is no good evidence of that.

The vaccine issue is widely debated among doctors and parents. Some parents who choose not to vaccinate their children because they are worried about the autism link find their children are facing a new set of social problems: they are ostracized in schools and playgroups. Many parents who do vaccinate feel they have a right to protect their children by knowing who has been vaccinated; since vaccines are not 100 percent effective, an infected child can pose a risk, even to a vaccinated child.

But many parents who believe that there is a vaccine–autism link remain convinced and some medical cases make the issue more confusing. In March, Hannah Poling’s parents won a lawsuit against a federal vaccine oversight body when U.S. government health officials admitted that a string of nine vaccinations administered to the girl as a toddler exacerbated an underlying condition that led to her developing autism.

After the verdict was announced, however, health officials were quick to reassure the public that vaccinations are safe.

Reference: Autism


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