In this wide-ranging interview, recorded as part of our Vaccination Café series, Robb Butler and Mark Muscat of the WHO Regional Office for Europe discuss the reasons for persistent epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases and the prospects of meeting the 2015 deadline for eliminating measles and rubella.
While several European countries appear to have contained the spread of measles, reporting zero cases over the past 12 months, outbreaks in the UK, Turkey, Georgia and elsewhere in Europe show there is still much to do if the continent is to defeat the disease.
Similarly, rubella – and the devastating congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) it can cause in new-born babies – remains relatively rare in Europe, yet major outbreaks in Poland and Romania jeopardise the Europe-wide elimination drive.
The WHO recommends 95% coverage with two doses of the MMR vaccine, which can protect against measles, mumps and rubella.
However, even where the average vaccine-uptake rate hits the 95% target, there may be pockets of the population where the immunisation rates are well below that. These sub-groups need particular attention, according to the WHO which has published a new Guide to Tailoring Immunisation Campaigns.
In addition, to support the elimination goal, the WHO is supporting the establishment of new national verification systems to monitor new cases of measles and rubella. After that, Europe would have to record zero new cases (excluding imported cases) for three years in order to be confirmed as measles- and rubella-free.
This mirrors a similar system designed and implemented to confirm Europe’s polio-free status more than a decade ago.
Whether this can be achieved in time for 2015 remains an open question but experts at national, European and WHO-level are seeking to inject momentum into fulfilling a promise that could ultimately save lives and prevent severe disability in Europe. Every year. Forever.