China dramatically cuts measles rate

Good news in the fight against measles! Unfortunately for those of us in Europe, the good news comes from Beijing…

Chinese authorities have recorded a major victory in the battle against measles after an aggressive immunisation drive. One year after a large-scale immunisation campaign, measles rates are down 73.6%, reversing what had been an escalating epidemic.

The news comes as Europe continues to grapple with major outbreaks of measles, particularly in France where 15,000 cases were recorded in 2011 alone. 

A spokesperson for China’s health ministry in Beijing said the measles incidence has now hit a record low. China, a nation of 1.3 billion people, had just over 10,000 new measles cases in 2011 compared to 131,000 cases in 2008 when almost half of all global measles cases were reported by Chinese authorities.

WHO officials in China said most of those cases were in young babies, the majority of whom had not been vaccinated.

A massive 10-day nationwide vaccination campaign was rolled out in September 2010, mainly targeting children aged between eight months and 14 years. The inclusive of older children was part of authorities’ efforts to immunise those who had missed out when they were younger.

The vaccine was made available free of charge and was not compulsory, and parents were asked to give consent before children were vaccination.

Following reports that schools and crèches were making measles vaccination a prerequisite for admission, the government ordered that any such restrictions be lifted in case it jeopardizes the vaccination blitz.

Public unease over vaccine

The campaign was met with resistance in some quarters, with concerns and rumours shared via social media and mobile phone text messages. The main concerns centred on the safety of the vaccine and the competence of medical staff to administer the jab.

The government had to repeatedly reassure the public that the vaccines were safe and public health experts gave regular interviews to the media.

Commentators in China said the concerns stemmed from a wider decline of trust in local government officials, as well as from previous safety issues with other vaccines, cover-ups during the SARS outbreak, and a scandal over tainted baby milk.

While China is celebrating a great leap forward for public health, Europe is struggling to get a grip on its measles epidemic and looks unlikely to achieve its 2015 measles eradication target.

The ECDC has said Europe needs ‘an extraordinary effort’ to contain the disease or it risks falling further behind other developed nations. In light of news from Beijing, Europe is in danger of losing ground on so-called ‘emerging’ nations too.