Measles Surge in 2023: Urgent Vaccination Challenges and Collaborative Strategies in the European WHO Region

    In 2023, the European WHO Region witnessed a concerning surge in measles cases, totaling over 42,200 cases. Many countries reported increased hospitalization rates, including Poland, where 36 cases were documented, primarily affecting those up to the age of ten. The highly contagious nature of measles raises the risk of rapid spread within communities.

    Measles, while potentially perilous, is entirely preventable through vaccinations. To curb its transmission, population immunity after virus contact must reach at least 95%. However, various age groups, including young children, adolescents, and adults, remain unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, acting as catalysts for epidemic outbreaks.

    In 2022, Poland’s first-dose vaccination coverage for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR1) in children under 3 declined to 90.9%, a 1.7 percentage point drop from 2019. Notably, provinces displayed varying coverage rates, posing challenges to achieving uniform immunity. The second-dose coverage (MMR2) for children under 7 was 77.4%, with provinces exhibiting disparities ranging from 64.5% to 95%, signaling potential epidemic threats.

    Delayed vaccinations heighten the risk of measles infection, demanding immediate efforts to administer missed doses and attain optimal coverage. Identifying vulnerable groups and understanding barriers faced by unvaccinated populations are pivotal for tailored vaccination policies. While measles vaccination takes precedence, addressing missed doses for other vaccines in the national immunization program is equally crucial.

    Collaborative efforts by the WHO National Office in Poland, WHO Regional Office for Europe, and the CDC, along with the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate and NIZP-PZH-PIB, aim to support Poland in measles and rubella elimination. The current focus is on developing a national action plan and response strategies for outbreaks, aligning with national policy goals for sustained measles elimination.

    Author: Dr Nino Berdzuli, WHO Representative and Director of the World Health Organization Office in Poland, WHO Special Envoy for actions on behalf of refugees from Ukraine in host countries.
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