In the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic, many children in Europe and beyond have not been vaccinated against measles, with the risk that in the coming months there will be new epidemics of the disease, especially in the countries most behind with vaccinations. There may also be more cases of mumps (“mumps”) and rubella, diseases against which you are vaccinated together with measles thanks to the MMR vaccine, often referred to as trivalent.
The director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Andrea Ammon, said that failure to complete the vaccination cycle “puts us in a position to search well and recover with vaccinations, otherwise I think we will have to face numerous epidemics. “. Given that the pandemic has been going on for about two years, Ammon explained, at least two groups of children can be expected to be behind with vaccinations: those who were between 12 and 15 months of age at the start of the pandemic, and those who have reached the same age in 2021. The problems should concern to a lesser extent children aged between 5 and 6 years, who receive a second dose to immunize the 2-5 percent for whom the first administration is not enough.
Precisely estimating the level of risk is very difficult, also because only some countries provide for a real vaccination obligation against measles, for newborns. In Italy, after a period in which the percentage of vaccinated people had dropped significantly, especially due to some “no vax” campaigns, in 2017 a law was introduced that had brought the number of compulsory vaccinations in childhood and adolescence four to ten.
Since then, compliance with vaccination obligations has become a necessary requirement to be admitted to nursery schools and kindergartens (up to 6 years), while in elementary school children can access even if not vaccinated, as long as it is activated a vaccination recovery process under the control of the competent ASL. Otherwise, there are fines for parents between 100 and 500 euros. Two years with notable discontinuities for kindergartens and primary schools have made the management of childhood vaccinations more difficult.
Ammon said that in the coming weeks, ECDC will deepen the progress of measles vaccination campaigns in European countries, so as to have a clearer picture of the situation. According to the surveys reported in April 2022, the latest available cases throughout Europe were a few dozen, especially in France, Poland and Ireland. The goal is to keep the number of new cases as low as possible, precisely to avoid dangerous epidemics.
Measles is an infectious disease of the respiratory system, is caused by a virus and is highly contagious. It is transmitted by air and those who contract it become contagious about three days before symptoms and up to a week after the appearance of red pustules on a large part of the body (rash). The disease, in addition to the skin rash, causes cough, cold and high fever, which usually peaks around 40 ° C. Measles can be the cause of many complications, from pneumonia to encephalitis (a dangerous infection affecting the brain and the rest of the central nervous system contained in the skull) to medium-sized ear infections.
Over the years, the MMR vaccine has made it possible to immunize hundreds of millions of people around the world and to save the lives of many of them, but it is opposed by movements against vaccines, born above all as a result of disinformation and an old and fraudulent scientific study of 1998, long denied by all the most important health organizations in the world including the WHO and withdrawn from the same magazine The Lancetwho had published it in the late 1990s.
The alleged relationship between vaccines and autism has never been proven by any scientific research, but this has not prevented in recent times some magistrates in Italy from issuing questionable ordinances and sentences that have contributed to increasing mistrust on the part of parents who must decide whether or not to vaccinate their children.
Immunization coverage against measles in children must be at least 95 percent, the threshold indicated by experts and the main international health organizations as a minimum to stop the circulation of measles in the population.
Risks from reduced measles vaccination are also assessed by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. According to data collected by the two institutions at the end of last April, in the first two months of this year, measles cases increased by 79 percent compared to the same period in 2021.
The cases detected all over the world between January and February were 17,388 and there are various elements that suggest a worsening of the situation. Due to the pandemic and the difficulties faced by many health systems, the fewer children are vaccinated the more their risk of infection increases, as the restrictions adopted to reduce the spread of the coronavirus are removed. There are also millions of children displaced from countries such as Ukraine, Ethiopia, Somalia and Afghanistan due to regional wars and conflicts, who are unable to be vaccinated. Many of them also live in crowded camps, where the risk of contagion is even higher.
In 2020, the WHO estimated that at least 23 million children were not vaccinated against measles and other diseases, the highest number since 2009.
According to data reported in early April, vaccination campaigns against various diseases have been postponed in over 40 countries due to the pandemic, making it impossible to immunize more than 200 million individuals, mostly children. In Ukraine, measles vaccination was suspended due to the pandemic between late 2019 and early 2020, while vaccinations are now not carried out in many areas of the country due to the war.