In April, a man in Wales died from pneumonia after catching measles. In October measles killed a teenager in the Netherlands. And the Dutch outbreak is spreading not just to other European countries but to North American too.
We are talking about a potentially lethal disease which should be under control. Instead, thousands of people in Europe have had measles this year already.
According to Marc Sprenger, head of the EU’s disease control agency, early indications suggest that there have been more than 11,000 cases this year so far – meaning 2013 already looks set to be deadlier than last year.
Global figures from 2011 show that around 18 children per hour die from measles. That’s the equivalent a whole classroom full of kids gone in the time it takes to watch a game of football.
In a speech to paediatricians last week, Sprenger summed up the crisis – and the frustration it should inspire: ‘Every child that dies from measles in Europe is a death that should not have happened.’
That says it all. These people should be alive.
We know how to prevent deaths from measles and want to eliminate it from Europe but are failing due to complacency and the fact that a minority of our populations hesitate to follow the recommended immunisation schedules.
Most of us are vaccinated but to stop measles, we need almost everyone – 95% of us – to be immunise.
(Read What is herd immunity? for more on why you need to play your part)
Remember that some people are too sick or too young to receive a vaccine so they depend on you and me to follow the advice of our doctors.
Of course, measles can have consequences that are not immediately fatal but nonetheless devastating.
And, when we talk about the needless tragedy of a vaccine-preventable death, there are many other diseases to consider too.
Like most parents, I have a stake in this. I’m glad our three-year-old girl is up to date with all her vaccines. But I’ll be happier when our six-month-old boy is old enough to be protected against measles.
The first dose of the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) is given around one year of age in most European countries.
So, for now, we hold our breath and rely on those around us. As one of our guest bloggers put it recently, The choice not to vaccinate doesn’t only affect you.
You do to help end the scourge of measles in Europe. For good.