The World Health Organization has issued a warning, after 35 people died from measles across Europe in the past year. Measles is entirely preventable with a vaccine, but continues to spread and contribute to deaths around Europe.
Since 2016, there have been over 3,300 cases of measles in Italy alone. The latest fatality came from that very region – a boy that was just six years old.
"Every death or disability caused by this vaccine-preventable disease is an unacceptable tragedy," said Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO regional director for Europe, in a press release. "We are very concerned that although a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available, measles remains a leading cause of death among children worldwide, and unfortunately Europe is not spared."
In the past 12 months, there have been deaths in Italy, Germany, and Portugal, though the majority of the deaths (31 in total) were in Romania.
Since the measles outbreak has begun, lawmakers across Europe have been looking to tighten their laws on vaccinations. Italy recently announced that vaccinations will become mandatory for schoolchildren, and Germany are inspecting their own laws.
"I urge all endemic countries to take urgent measures to stop transmission of measles within their borders, and all countries that have already achieved this to keep up their guard and sustain high immunization coverage," said Dr Jakab.
Anti-vacination groups are thought to be one of the reasons why some people avoid the measels vaccination. Despite study after study proving that autism is not caused by the measels vaccine, including one funded by anti-vaxxers themselves, there are many people who refuse to get their children this life-saving vaccine on the misguided belief it causes more harm than good.
The WHO recommends that every eligible child receive two doses of the measles-containing vaccine. They also encourage adults who are not fully immunized, or who are not sure of their immunity status, to get vaccinated.
"Working closely with health authorities in all European affected countries is our priority to control the outbreaks and maintain high vaccination coverage for all sections of the population," Dr Jakab.
Worldwide deaths have significantly dropped off since the introduction of the measles vaccine. Between 2000 and 2015, there has been a 79 percent drop in measles deaths around the world, though the number of mortalities still remains unnecessarily high. In 2015, there were 134,200 deaths worldwide.