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Irish measles cases rise over 200% as experts blame increase on misinformation about MMR vaccine

A new report has revealed that global rates of the disease are on the rise.

LAST UPDATE | 25 Apr 2019

CASES OF MEASLES in Ireland more than doubled last year, according to a United Nations report which has revealed that outbreaks of the virus are on the rise globally.

According to the report by UNICEF, an estimated 169 million children missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017.

It found that an increase in the number of unvaccinated children throughout the world has allowed the disease to make a comeback in several countries, including some which had previously declared the virus eliminated.

Cases of measles increased in 98 countries around the world from 2017 to 2018, with cases in Ireland growing by more than 200%, from 25 in 2017 to 86 in 2018.

The Head of the HSE’s National Immunisation Office, Dr Lucy Jessop, said 48 measles cases have been reported so far this year.

“While uptake in Ireland has remained steady at around 92%, we need to increase uptake rates to the target of 95% to make sure that measles does not circulate here,” she said.

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.

Meanwhile, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide during the first three months of 2019 – an increase of nearly 300% from the same period last year.

“The foundation for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago,” said Peter Power, UNICEF Ireland’s Executive Director.

“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”

Two doses of the measles vaccine are essential to protect children from the disease, with global coverage of the first dose reported at 85% in 2017, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the last decade.

Anti-vax movement

However, fear or skepticism about vaccines, as well as lack of access, poor health systems, and complacency has seen the global coverage for the second dose drops to 67%.

In high income countries, coverage with the first dose is 94 per cent, but coverage for the second dose drops to 91 per cent.

Resurgence of disease has been partly linked to the growing anti-vaccine movement in richer countries, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as a major global health threat.

The anti-vax phenomenon has adherents across Western countries but is particularly high-profile in the US, where it has been driven by baseless claims on social media.

The United States tops the list of high-income countries with the most children not receiving the first dose of the vaccine between 2010 and 2017, at more than 2.5 million.

The country recorded 695 cases of measles in 2019, the most of any year since the disease was declared eliminated at the turn of the century, and surpassing the previous high of 667 reached in 2014.

“A significant factor contributing to the outbreaks in New York is misinformation in the communities about the safety of the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine,” the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

In a separate statement confirming the new record, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said “measles vaccines are among the most extensively studied medical products we have, and their safety has been firmly established over many years”.

Rates of non-vaccination in were second- and third-highest in France and the United Kingdom respectively, where there were over 600,000 and 500,000 unvaccinated infants between 2010 and 2017.

The Explainer / SoundCloud

With additional reporting from - © AFP 2019

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