With the number of cases of measles growing in Europe, health authorities are urging everyone to make sure they are vaccinated against the potentially deadly disease. Migrants are especially at risk, as studies have shown they have lower immunization rates than European-born individuals.
Why is vaccination important now?
Measles is spreading again in Europe. In the German city of Cologne, 90 cases have been confirmed since the start of the year, tens times the number in the same period in 2017. Those affected include babies as young as six months, up to adults over 60 years of age.
The head of Cologne's health department, Dr Harald Rau, has issued an appeal to "Protect your children, yourself, and our city," echoing calls across Europe for more people to be vaccinated against measles as well as other preventable diseases.
Measles, which starts with high fever and a cough but can quickly develop into a life-threatening condition, is highly infectious. It is effectively and easily prevented with a double dose of a vaccine. However, some people are choosing not to be immunized, some are unaware of the dangers and still others, including some migrants, are missing out on the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Immunization could save up to 3 million more lives a year
The number of measles cases has risen across Germany as well as in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Romania, Cyprus, France, Ireland and the Czech Republic. In the 12 months to the end of February 2018, there were at more than 14,800 cases reported in the EU.
Public health experts say that to stop the spread of the disease, 95% of the population should be immunized. But coverage is varied throughout the region. This is partly because governments have taken different approaches to whether vaccination against diseases like measles should be mandatory. In some countries in Europe, vaccination is compulsory, while in others, like Germany, the decision is left up to the individual.
This has led to a growing number of people who refuse to immunize, believing, for example, that vaccines can cause illnesses such as autism in children. However, the European health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, recently spoke out strongly against such vaccination-skeptics, saying they were spreading false information and contributing to the spread of disease. "There is no vaccine against fake news," he said.
The Robert Koch Institute prepares a list of annually updated vaccination recommendations, which sets out the standard vaccinations that are advisable at a particular age.
They also publish an immunization schedule in 20 languages.
A multilingual guide to vaccination, including information about the risks and side-effects, can be found here.