UNICEF warns drop in vaccine coverage prompts measles surge in Europe, Central Asia

Measles, a vaccine-preventable disease which weakens children’s immune systems and can be fatal, is up by a staggering 3,200 per cent this year compared to 2022 in Europe and Central Asia, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said on Thursday (December 14, 2023).

Some 30,600 cases have been confirmed in the region so far in 2023 and UNICEF warned that numbers are expected to rise further due to gaps in immunity as vaccination rates have dropped.

 UNICEF says Europe, Central Asia witnessing rise in measles cases amid decline in vaccine coverage. Photo Courtesy: Unsplash

“There is no clearer sign of a breakdown in immunisation coverage than an increase in cases of measles,” UNICEF’s director for the region Regina De Dominicis said, calling for urgent public health measures to protect children from the dangerous disease.

The highest rates of measles cases in Europe and Central Asia have been recorded in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Romania. An estimated 931,000 children in the region missed out entirely or partially on routine immunisation from 2019 to 2021.

UNICEF highlighted that the rate of immunisation with the first dose of the measles vaccine dropped from 96 per cent in 2019 to 93 per cent in 2022.

The UN agency attributes the drop in coverage to shrinking demand for vaccines “in part fuelled by misinformation and mistrust” during the COVID-19 pandemic, disruption to health services and weak primary healthcare systems among other factors.