Most children in Europe are vaccinated against measles. The trouble is that while the majority may be protected, eliminating the disease requires almost everyone to have two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Some countries in Europe have successfully vaccinated more than 99% of their population while others have only managed 80%, according to a new report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
But the real problems arise because high concentrations of unvaccinated individuals are often found living or working together.
These ‘hard-to-reach’ pockets of the population can include religious communities, migrants and nomadic groups, users of complementary medicine, anthroposophic communities, and healthcare workers.
The latter group is seen as at heightened risk due to their frequent contact with infected individuals and the risk of spreading the disease to others who are already ill.
For nomadic groups – such as the Traveller and Roma populations – there are additional barriers to improving vaccination including language, literacy and a lack of data. Some have limited contact with health services which makes it difficult to predict outbreaks and to intervene when they occur, says the ECDC.
The report says that working with local communities, often through mediators or local healthcare workers, has proven to improve uptake. The first step, it says, is understanding why certain subgroups of the population are not vaccinated, and responding to the needs and concerns of the community.
Improving immunisation rates in hard-to-reach communities is essential if Europe is to meet its 2015 measles elimination target.
WHO Europe officials and public health doctors have been meeting to discuss measles and rubella elimination in recent weeks in an effort to identify effective ways of making the final push towards ridding Europe of these vaccine-preventable diseases.
Experts gathered in Sofia, Bulgaria, on February 27 and 28 for the last for four meetings on measles and rubella elimination. A report