Cases of measles in Europe are at the highest rate in a decade, due to a growing number of pockets where parents are refusing vaccination for their children, also known as ‘anti-vaxxers’.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that more children in the WHO European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before; but progress has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, and resulting in a record number of people affected by the virus in 2018.

The virus killed 72 children and adults in Europe in 2018, and according to monthly country reports for January to December 2018, 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles.

“The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunisation rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation. While data indicate exceptionally high immunisation coverage at regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease. This means that gaps at local level still offer an open door to the virus,” said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, regional director of WHO.

She continued, “We cannot achieve healthier populations globally, as promised in WHO’s vision for the coming five years, if we do not work locally. We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided.”

Measles is an easily preventable tragedy, and WHO is urging European countries to target their interventions to those places and groups where immunisation gaps persist.