Measles Surge Across WHO European Region
Measles continues to spread in the WHO European Region, with over 42,200 cases reported by 41 Member States for 2023. The WHO European Region, comprises 53 countries, covering a vast geographical region from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and coordinates with the European Union and its agencies.
Among the countries most affected in the Region, Kazakhstan has recorded the highest incidence with 13,677 cases in 2023, which corresponds to over 639 cases per million population. There have been over 11,300 reported cases among children under 14 years of age in the country, with 70% of them being unvaccinated against measles.
As in other countries of the Region, the virus is spreading rapidly and the outbreak is attributed largely to an accumulation of susceptible children who missed routine immunization doses during the COVID-19 pandemic; 65% of the reported measles cases in Kazakhstan have been children under 5 years of age.
Health authorities in Kazakhstan have initiated extensive outbreak response measures to interrupt transmission of the virus, including:
- isolation of patients confirmed with measles
- daily medical observation of contact persons for 21 days
- vaccination of contact persons under 30 years old
- supplementary immunization activities, including offering an early (so-called “zero”) dose of measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine to children aged 6–10 months, a (potentially supplemental) dose to all children aged 2–4 years (regardless of previous vaccination status), and a dose to unvaccinated health workers
- catch-up immunization for all children under 18 years of age who missed routine vaccination
- awareness-raising efforts to educate the public on prevention of infectious diseases, with a particular focus on measles since February 2023.
To implement the vaccination campaigns, the government purchased an additional 1.5 million doses of MMR vaccine. According to the Ministry of Health, as of 10 January 2024, 1,140,000 individuals have been vaccinated through the supplemental immunization activities started in November 2023, in addition to those vaccinated through routine immunization services.
‘Measles is highly infectious, but fortunately, can be effectively prevented through vaccination,’ said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. ‘I commend Kazakhstan for the urgent measures being taken to stop the spread of this dangerous disease. WHO will continue to support the current outbreak response as well as long-term strengthening of the immunization programme to prevent future outbreaks.’