Measles in Europe: record number of both sick and immunized

12 February 2019

Article: 53/0602

More children in the World Health Organisation (WHO) European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before. Progress, however, has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, which has resulted in record numbers of people being affected by the virus in 2018. In light of measles data for the year 2018, the WHO urges European countries to target their interventions to those places and groups where immunization gaps persist.

Measles killed 72 children and adults in the European Region in 2018. According to country reports issued monthly through the year, 82,596 people in 47 of 53 countries contracted measles. Further, in countries which reported such data, 61% of cases required hospital treatment. The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade, with three times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016.

The surge in measles cases in 2018 followed a year in which the European Region achieved its highest ever estimated coverage for the second dose of measles vaccination (90% in 2017). More children in the region received the full two-dose series on time in 2017 than in any year since the WHO started collecting data on the second dose in 2000. Coverage with the first dose of the vaccine also increased slightly to 95%, the highest level since 2013. However, progress in the region, based on achievements at the national level, can mask gaps at sub-national levels, which are often not recognized until outbreaks occur.

Source: WHO Europe, 7 February 2019