GENEVA (Reuters) - More children in Germany must be vaccinated against measles to prevent another widespread outbreak, a World Health Organization (WHO) study published on Monday said.
More than 12,000 people were infected with measles three years ago in Germany, Romania, Britain, Switzerland and Italy in an unusual epidemic caused by relatively low immunization rates against the contagious viral disease.
“The 2006 measles outbreak ... must be regarded as a wake-up call,” experts from Berlin’s Robert Koch Institute and two German public health centers said in the latest WHO Bulletin, in a study that focused only on Germany.
They said vaccination coverage rates remain dangerously low, putting children at continuing risk of the viral disease that killed 197,000 people in 2007.
“Immediate nationwide school-based catch-up vaccination campaigns targeting older age groups are needed to close critical immunity gaps,” the researchers said, noting German children aged 10 to 14 were most affected in the 2006 outbreak.
Vaccination rates across Europe range from above 95 percent in Finland to as low as 70 percent for children born between 1996 and 2003 in Germany, according to a separate study published last month in The Lancet.
Europe will need about 95 percent of vaccination coverage to halt the risk of an outbreak of measles, whose main symptoms are high fever and rash, with potential complications including blindness, encephalitis, ear infections, and pneumonia.
Two doses of measles vaccine are recommended for immunity.
Although a measles vaccine has been available since 1963, some parents’ refusal to have their children vaccinated has sparked a resurgence in cases in Europe as well as the United States in recent years.
Public health officials have stressed the safety of the combined measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) jab and other childhood vaccines in response to concerns from some groups who say the shot may cause autism or other health problems.
Measles can spread easily when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. About 90 percent of unvaccinated people who contact a measles patient become infected.
Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Matthew Jones