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Measles vaccine gap poses risk in Germany

August 8, 2019

Some 166,000 German infants lack measles immunization, health insurers warn. Their finding underscores a recent World Health Organization alert that in Germany, and other European nations, the virus is still 'endemic.'

A child being vaccinated
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Sven Simon

Merely 80% of 2-year-olds and 88.8% of 6-year-olds were adequately immunized against measles in 2017, Barmer, one of Germany's six large semi-statutory health insurers, warned on Thursday.

A target of 95% of the population is widely recommended to rid a country of the easily spread virus and potentially fatal disease.

Barmer, which has 9.2 million members, disputed the assumed level of 92.8% immunization stated by Germany's renowned Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and documented in vaccination passports presented by parents when their children start school.

Read more: 'dangerous gaps' in immunization worldwide

Germany's vaccination problem

Barmer said 9% of school-beginners did not possess the document. So it instead scanned its own patient database to identify immunizations actually given by pediatricians.

Scaling up its sample, Barmer calculated that nationwide, 166,000 2-year-old children lacked full measles immunization.

Furthermore, one in five girls of this age was inadequately vaccinated against rubella.

This viral ailment, with skin rash symptoms similar to measles, can result in congenital problems in offspring or miscarriages when girls reach adulthood.

'Too few being vaccinated'

"In Germany, too few children are being vaccinated," said Barmer chairman Christoph Straub.

"That makes the eradication of certain infectious diseases impossible and hinders protection for all those who don't allow themselves to be vaccinated," he added.

Facing vaccination-detractors, German Health Minister Jens Spahn got Cabinet approval in July for a draft law that would require proof of complete measles immunization before children start kindergarten or primary school.

Ukraine, measles hot spot

In January and February, 34,300 cases of measles were recorded across 42 countries included in the World Health Organization's (WHO) 53-nation "European Region."

The majority were reported in Ukraine, with more than 25,000 cases. Thirteen measles-related deaths occurred in Albania, Romania and Ukraine.

Elimination had been verified in only 37 or the region's 53 nations, said the WHO.

It went on to list 10 nations where measles remained "endemic": Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia and Ukraine.

Inside Europe: Measles makes a deadly comeback in Romania

Two vaccination doses needed

The European Vaccine Action Plan (EVAP), running from 2015 until 2020 and adopted by all 53 members nations in 2014, states that at least 95% of individuals in every population need to be immune to ensure community protection.

Immunity is defined as two doses of vaccination or prior exposure to the virus.

Last November, the WHO estimated that worldwide there were 110,000 deaths related to measles in 2017.

Global coverage with a first vaccine dose had "stalled" at 85%, it warned. Second dose coverage stood at only 67%.

ipj/rt (epd, AFP, KNA, dpa)

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