Written by Vanda van de Ven, CNN
The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed to recommend expanded access to a vaccine against measles, which last year spiked to its highest levels since 2003.
The “withdrawal” from optional screening means high-risk travelers, from Europe to Japan and elsewhere, who are immune to the virus and in whom measles has not yet been seen can be immunized without them requiring a follow-up.
Although the schedule hasn’t changed since 2000, the new recommendation provides support to communities where unvaccinated travelers may reside, and to travelers and health care professionals who need to reinforce the need for vaccination with travelers and aid workers.
Just 10% of Canadians are protected by measles, which is defined as having two or more doses of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine — none if this is insufficient to offer protection.
“Measles is an unforgiving and contagious disease. It is estimated that measles is the second-leading cause of death among children under five, after pneumonia,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Manitoba and a lead author of the agreement, in a statement.
“Adding the voluntary testing of travelers allows world health officials to provide an extra layer of protection against this highly infectious disease,” Murray added.
Almost 1,000 people who attended an outbreak of an influenza-like illness in Greece last year tested positive for measles.
And in the United States, where measles cases have steadily increased over the past decade, a couple died of the virus, the CDC reported in November.
Canada – a world leader in vaccination – offers more than three million children the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine on a regular basis, according to the WHO. A late-90s expansion of this vaccine was directly tied to the decrease in measles cases in Canada.