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Dozens Die In Europe's Record Number Of Measles Cases


In Europe, cases of the measles have hit a record high. More than 41,000 kids and adults have been infected in the first six months of this year, and at least 37 people have died. The reason for this sharp rise - people are just not getting vaccinated. Dr. Siddhartha Datta works on vaccines and preventable diseases for the World Health Organization and joins us from Copenhagen.

Dr. Datta, good morning.

SIDDHARTHA DATTA: Good morning. How are you all?

GREENE: I'm good. Thank you. And we appreciate you taking the time for us.

I just want to ask you, two years ago we saw a record low of measles cases in Europe, just about 5,000. What is going on here?

DATTA: So thanks for pointing it out. And indeed, it was. Actually, 2016 was a record low of the number of measles cases reported. And as you see, there's this big spike in 2017, which followed up again in 2018.


DATTA: And it is mostly because the fact that, you know, the under-vaccinated or unvaccinated population got accumulated over a period of two years. And measles will find those cases, which means measles will find people who are not vaccinated. And they will, you know, spread like a wildfire, as we have seen. WHO actually recommends that we need to make sure that 95 percent of our population gets at least two doses of measles-containing vaccines so that they are protected. And because they were not in this region, there are some national areas - there are communities where we find these unvaccinated people. And then they're susceptible to this disease, and that's what we have seen in 2018.

GREENE: Well, why aren't people getting vaccinated? Is it the perception that vaccines can be dangerous somehow? So is this really a matter of doing more to educate people?

DATTA: You know, the reasons for this low vaccine uptake actually are multifactorial. It's like - it's also context specific to the countries to which we are seeing this low vaccine uptake. They can range from vaccine stockouts in those countries. There can be misinformation, rumors or complacency on the disease. They can also be related to people not getting access to health care services. So this all - I think it has to be seen as a context-specific barrier. And then countries need to make sure that they put adequate measures to target them so that they can reach a very high vaccination coverage and, thereby, protect the population from these easily preventable diseases. You started telling that we do have measles cases. Also, we do have deaths. And we all have to keep - remember that each of these deaths are preventable. I mean, any of these deaths that we are seeing is an unacceptable tragedy.

GREENE: Yeah, it's a totally preventable disease. So what more can the WHO and other agencies do to educate people and get rid of these rumors that are going around?

DATTA: Yeah. So - and WHO actually is working with all of these member - all of our countries where we are seeing these outbreaks to understand the full range of reasons why people are not getting vaccinated. So WHO is urging countries to tailor their program to address those needs and - at least so that, you know, they can reach a very high vaccination coverage.

GREENE: All right. Dr. Siddhartha Datta specializes in vaccines and preventable diseases for the World Health Organization, joining us from Copenhagen this morning to talk about record-high cases of the measles in Europe right now, a big concern there.

Thanks so much, Dr. Datta. We appreciate it.

DATTA: Thank you so much for your time.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUDE'S "ETERNAL YOUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.