Romania has reported 675 cases of measles in the first eight months of 2016. Two children have died and a third death is being investigated to determine whether it was directly caused by the measles virus.
All three deaths occurred in children younger than one year – meaning that they were too young to have the MMR vaccine.
People who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated rely on other people in their community to be vaccinated. This ‘herd immunity’ (see video) would protect vulnerable children.
Romania had a vaccination rate of 89% in 2014, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Surveillance and Control (ECDC).
However, health authorities in Romania say ‘anti-vaccination’ campaigners have spread myths about the vaccine’s safety, leading some parents to opt out of the recommended childhood immunisation programme.
“The Health Ministry condemns in the strongest terms the irresponsible campaigns against vaccination of children,” the Ministry of Health said.
“The three deaths occurred in children younger than 1 year – below the age for vaccinating against measles. These children’s deaths were senseless and avoidable. In a community with optimum vaccination coverage, all children under 1 year are protected by herd immunity.”
In a strong statement, the Ministry urged parents to bring their children for the MMR vaccine on time. For those in areas suffering major outbreaks, the National Institute of Public Health in Romania recommends vaccinating children at the age of seven months after consulting their doctor.
“Put simply, the three deceased children could have been protected by the non-appearance of measles in older children thanks to vaccination.”
The outbreak has spread across the country and has been linked to outbreaks as far away as Ireland. The 675 confirmed cases of measles this year were recorded in over 23 counties.
The worst-affected areas are at the border between Cluj and Bistrita Nasaud (219 cases); Mures county (145 cases); Arad (113 cases including 2 deaths in children under 1 year); Timis County (71 cases including 1 death per child under 1 year).
“It is an extremely sad waste of life,” says Dr Valeria Herdea, President of AREPMF, a professional medical organisation committed to educating paediatricians. She says vaccine rates were as high as 95% in 1995 but now fluctuate between 75-80%, meaning many people are at risk.
Dr Herdea says that while some parents refuse vaccination due to misinformation gleaned from unscientific websites, many others hesitate or delay for other reasons.
Her message to parents is clear: “I vaccinated all three of my children and my four grandchildren to protect them from suffering severe diseases. Get your baby vaccinated to protect him/her, yourself and your loved ones.”
ECDC told Vaccines Today it is aware of the situation in Romania and is monitoring it carefully.