Romania declares measles epidemic as infant dies in hospital

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

December 20th, 2023

Editorial Team

‘Health authorities are expanding immunisation services in response to 2,000 cases of measles.’

The Ministry for Health in Romania has declared a major measles outbreak in the country, with multiple clusters reported across the country. So far, cases have been registered in 29 of Romania’s 41 counties. 

Romanian media are reporting the first death of the latest epidemic in the city of Brasov. Local media say the child was seven months old and caught the virus from their three-year-old brother who was not vaccinated. The child was admitted to hospital two weeks ago with complications of measles, and died in mid-December. 

As seven-month-old children are not routinely given measles vaccines, they rely on the wider community to keep the disease at bay through herd immunity. They may also benefit from antibodies passed on during pregnancy, if their mother is immune to measles. 

By declaring a nationwide epidemic, health authorities will have additional scope to respond at speed. The first dose of measles vaccine is usually given to children in Romania aged 12 months, but the government aims to vaccinate babies between the ages of nine and 11 months during the emergency.

Read: Doctors in Romania warn of measles outbreaks (2022)

Official figures record measles vaccination rates of 78% (first dose) and 62% (second dose), noting that this reflects a downward trend that has been evident for more than a decade. A new National Vaccination Strategy has been adopted, aiming to address the public health risks associated with vaccine-preventable diseases.  

Warning from doctors

Last year, Romania paediatricians issued a statement warning of potential outbreaks arising from low vaccine uptake. Based on a survey conducted between 2019 and 2021, paediatricians estimated that uptake could be even lower (<50%) than official data suggest.   

They said vaccine misinformation was widespread and there was a real risk of outbreaks across the country. Uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine in Romania was also well below the European average, despite a promising start. 

A Unicef report, drawing on data from a Vaccine Confidence Project survey, found that confidence in vaccines fell by up to 10% since the beginning of the pandemic. 
Measles outbreaks have occurred in Romania on several occasions in recent years. In 2016, three children died from the disease amid an epidemic of more than 700 cases. A larger epidemic in 2018 caused the deaths of ‘dozens’ of children.