Measles outbreaks in Europe highlight importance of vaccination before travel and attending mass gathering events
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) is urging parents to make sure that their children are fully vaccinated against measles following a large pan national outbreak of the disease in Europe. Today ECDC stressed the importance of getting vaccinated before attending mass gathering events.
Since the start of 2011 there have been more than 10,000 cases of measles and four related deaths in 18 European countries. Many cases are due to travel of infected people between countries. As there is more travel between Europe and Ireland over the summer, there is an increased risk to Irish children and teenagers who are not fully vaccinated against measles.
There have been significant outbreaks in France, Spain and Belgium, which are popular holiday destinations for Irish families and with college students on holiday, working, visiting relatives and friends or attending summer camps or other summer activities.
Vaccination with MMR vaccine is the only way to protect against measles. In Ireland, the first MMR dose is given at 12 months of age, and the second dose at 4-5 years of age. Parents must make sure that their children and teenagers are protected against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with MMR before they visit Europe. Measles is a highly infectious and dangerous illness which spreads very easily, particularly in homes, crèches, playgroups, camps, schools and universities. Parents should speak with their GP and get the vaccine for their child if needed. The vaccine is free.
At the moment, only 90% of children in Ireland have received one dose of MMR by 24 months of age, which is below the target of 95% to prevent cases of measles and measles outbreaks.
So far, 42 cases of measles have been reported in Ireland since January 2011. Eight of these cases were in children under 12 months of age who were too young to have been vaccinated but almost half of the rest had not received any doses of MMR vaccine. One in five cases in Ireland were either related to recent European travel or to contact with infected individuals from European countries where measles outbreaks occurred.
MMR vaccine is routinely recommended for all children at 12 months and at 4-5 years of age. The vaccine is given free of charge.
Many parents and GPs have inquired about administering MMR vaccine to children less than 12 months of age who are travelling to areas where measles outbreaks are occurring in Europe.
- MMR vaccine can be given be given to children as young as 6 months of age during outbreak situations (although vaccine effectiveness is usually less at this age than when given after 12 months of age).
- MMR vaccine may take up to 4 weeks to be effective.
- Parents who wish to lessen the risk of measles in their children between 6-12 months of age who may be exposed to measles may wish to avail of MMR vaccine. If they do so the vaccine is provided free via the HSE National Cold Chain Service but parents should pay for the vaccine administration.
This dose would not be counted as a valid dose from the point of the vaccination programme and should be repeated at 12 months of age, at least one month after the first vaccine with a further dose at 4 - 5 years of age.
- Parents who wish to lessen the risk of measles in their children between 1-5 years of age who may be exposed to measles may wish to avail of a second dose of MMR vaccine. If they do so the vaccine is provided free via the HSE National Cold Chain Service but parents should pay for the vaccine administration.
This dose would usually be counted as a valid dose from the point of the vaccination programme and no further MMR vaccine is required.
Note: If a child under 18 months of age receives a second MMR vaccine within three months of the first MMR a third MMR vaccine should be given at 4-5 years of age.
For more information: