Dad, what’s measles?

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

April 25th, 2016

Gary Finnegan

‘Could this generation be the last to see measles outbreaks in Europe? ’

SmallpoxFive-year-old kids hear everything. I was on the phone talking about Europe’s effort to eliminate measles, when I mentioned the case of a child who died in Germany in 2015.

I usually work at home so my family generally tunes out from what’s going on in my office and I imagine I’m in an office block somewhere.

But on this occasion, as soon as I hung up the phone, the office door burst open. There stood the five-year-old, flanked by a (plastic) sword-wielding two-year-old in a pirate costume, and she had questions.

‘What’s measles?!’

‘It’s a disease that makes children sick and gives them spots on their skin. You probably won’t get it because you have had all your injections.’

‘I thought everyone got their injections?’

‘Well…they should but not everyone does.’

[With a disbelieving laugh] ‘That’s just silly! People might get sick for no reason!’


There are two things to take from this. One is that today’s Europeans – and their doctors – see measles very, very rarely. This illustrates the success of immunisation programmes but also paves the way for complacency.

The second take-home is that children find vaccine hesitancy hard to understand – and they are the ones with the freshest experience (insofar as they can remember it) of being jabbed in the arm to protect them from a disease they’ve never seen.


This week is European Immunization Week. Vaccines Today will have new content every day including interviews and guest posts, and we will be active on social media throughout the week. 

The WHO is embracing the #VaccinesWork hashtag. Thirty-two of the WHO European Regions 53 countries have interrupted the spread of these two diseases. It’s time for the rest to catch up and make measles history.