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Measles warning may have caused vaccine spike

But paediatrician fears increase will be short-lived

A warning of a measles outbreak by the health authorities seems to have jolted parents into getting their children vaccinated against the highly infectious disease, with well over 2,000 jabs administered at health centres in two months.

Official figures supplied by the Health Ministry show that between July 1 and the beginning of September, a total of 2,268 vaccines were administered at the various health centres around the island.

During the same period last year, 1,641 jabs were administered, up from less than 1,500 in 2016 and 2015.

In August, the health authorities alerted doctors to a possible measles outbreak, urging them to take extra precautions after five cases were reported this year.

Measles can spread with relatively minimal contact. Infected persons are contagious to others from four days before the onset of the rash to four days afterwards.

31 deaths in Europe in 2018

The cases imported to Malta follow the marked increases in measles transmission across Europe. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, outbreaks of measles are ongoing in the Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Romania, Slovakia and the UK. To date, 31 deaths have been reported across Europe in 2018.

Despite the notable increase, consultant paediatrician Victor Grech told The Sunday Times of Malta that he feared the spike would only last a couple of months, as there tended to be such a rush when news of an outbreak surfaced, only for it to die down within weeks.

“The same thing happened in Cardiff a few years back. There was low uptake, a person died, and then people started getting their children vaccinated. It’s like they have an epiphany when something bad finally happens,” Prof. Grech told this newspaper.

He feared that the new enthusiasm for vaccinations among parents who had for years been reluctant to give their children the jab would be short-lived.

“Instead of seeking the advice of the professionals, people get their information from social media platforms, and they are rife with conspiracy theories.”

The paediatrician was referring to data published some 12 years ago that linked the measles vaccine to autism – a study long since discredited. The British doctor who drew the link between autism and the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) was subsequently banned from practising medicine.

Children are given the vaccine when they are around two years old, followed by a second dose when they are between three and four in accordance with the local immunisation schedule.

claire.caruana@timesofmalta.com

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