Measles outbreaks spread across Europe: European Immunization Week offers chance to promote immunization

Copenhagen, 20 April 2011

Thirty countries in WHO’s European Region have reported a marked increase in measles cases, with 6 500 so far in 2011. Epidemiological investigations and genotyping by laboratories confirm exportation of the virus among several countries in the Region and to other regions of the world. Outbreaks and the further spread of measles are likely to continue so long as people remain unimmunized or do not get immunized on time according to the routine immunization schedule. An increase in international travel during the Easter holidays will further increase the risk of exportation and importation of measles.

This provides a compelling reason to promote European Immunization Week (EIW), which runs from 23 to 30 April 2011. This year, more than 50 countries will take part in the initiative, the largest number since EIW began in 2005.

“With shared borders and considerable population movement, countries share health threats,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “There is a need to create strong partnerships to prevent and control diseases, such as measles, in our Region. European Immunization Week reminds us that there is much to celebrate about the good work already done on immunization, but there also remains a great deal of work to do – and quickly.”

As part of the activities planned for EIW 2011, the WHO Regional Office for Europe will host a regional launch in Brussels, Belgium on 26 April at 10:00 (CET). Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium will open the launch, as WHO/Europe’s Special Representative for Immunization. The launch will be followed by a roundtable discussion focused on measles outbreaks that will involve representatives from several European countries that are currently experiencing outbreaks.

“EIW 2011 provides a platform for countries to come together and collaborate on joint planning of preventive measures and effective responses to the common threats we face from vaccine-preventable diseases”, said Ms Jakab. “Only through this kind of collaboration can we achieve the goals of boosting vaccination coverage and eliminating measles and rubella by 2015.”

In Belgium, the national surveillance system has reported 100 cases of measles so far in 2011. The country reported only 40 measles cases in the whole of 2010. In the hot spot of this outbreak, Ghent, the virus is affecting primarily children younger than one year (and therefore unimmunized) and students of anthroposophic schools (unimmunized due to beliefs).

France faces the largest outbreak, with 4 937 measles cases officially reported from January to March 2011, a figure almost equal to the total of 5 090 cases reported for whole of 2010. The national immunization system is implementing measures to get children vaccinated during the outbreak, including vaccinating infants at nine months of age, in line with WHO recommendations for a measles outbreak, and offering vaccine to all unimmunized and under-immunized people over the age of nine months. Other significant outbreaks are taking place in Serbia, Spain (Andalusia), The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.

Measles remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. To prevent further exportation and importation of measles, both inside and outside the Region, WHO/Europe encourages health authorities of Member States to advocate for immunization before international travel and to make vaccinations available to travellers.

During European Immunization Week, other countries around the Region will take action on their own immunization priorities. Seven Member States (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) will synchronize rounds of polio supplementary immunization activities with trivalent oral polio vaccine (tOPV) in April and May 2011. Many of these activities will take place during European Immunization Week and will be recognized as part of EIW activities.

In Albania, a subregional meeting will bring together representatives from more than 10 countries to discuss shared solutions to boosting immunization among migrant and vulnerable populations. Other Member States will participate in EIW through media and information campaigns, press conferences and immunization outreach via mobile immunization teams, as well as through a range of meetings, workshops, training events for health care workers and conferences.

Members of the media are invited to apply for accreditation to attend the EIW launch event by contacting Video footage will be available the day after the event on the WHO/Europe website.


Rebecca Martin
Team Leader, Communicable Diseases
Tel.: +45 39 17 1216

Robb Butler
Technical Officer, Communicable Diseases
Tel.: +45 39 17 1552