Romania has a serious problem. Childhood vaccination rates are too low to protect the population against highly-infectious diseases such as measles. Since January 2016, 8,937 measles cases have been recorded in Romania.
Most people infected by the measles virus recover well. Some (around 10%), however, are hospitalised due to complications. In rare cases, these complications can cause long-term problems which are fatal. And some people die in the acute phase.
In 2016, 12 people in Romania died following measles. In 2017, 21 people had been reported to have died between January and August amid major measles outbreaks. As some complications of measles can take years to develop, the full impact of recent outbreaks is still unknown.
Data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control (ECDC) shows that Romania has by far the most serious and persistent measles problem in Europe. The country with the second highest number of measles cases is Italy where more than 4,000 cases have been recorded this year from January to August. Three deaths have been confirmed in Italy.
Last month, the Italian parliament passed a law making 10 childhood vaccines compulsory – including the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Now Romania looks set to follow suit.
In an effort to push back against anti-vaccine campaigners – led in part by influential celebrities and some religious groups – the government has prepared legislation that would effectively make it mandatory to follow the National Immunisation Schedule.
The draft law says consent for vaccination is presumed and that parents seeking to opt out on behalf of their children must do so in writing. They may face heavy fines as a result – with one report suggesting penalties of €2,200 could be on the horizon. The average take-home salary in Romania is estimated to be €465.
Mandatory vaccination for health workers – public and private – have also been included in the draft law which will be debated in the months ahead.
For some vaccines which are already mandatory, including the vaccine against hepatitis B, Romania has faced regular supply shortages. Some doctors have reported occasional challenges keeping MMR vaccines in stock.
A European problem
Romania and Italy are not the only European countries experiencing measles outbreaks. The ECDC says that all EU/EEA countries have reported measles cases this year, except for Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta and Norway.
In its latest report, the agency highlights 32 cases in Germany since mid-August 2017, taking the total for the year to 860 – a huge increase on the 224 cases reported by German authorities for the same period in 2016. Ireland also reported two measles cases in mid-August, bringing its total number of cases to eight for the year to August. The UK has recorded 17 cases in 2017.