As European Immunization Week 2013 kicks off, WHO urges all 53 participating Member States in the European Region to consider the economic impact of measles and to restore or maintain effective national vaccination programmes, despite the difficulties of the economic downturn.
“Considering the human costs of measles, a preventable disease that can lead to long-term health complications and even death, we cannot afford to be complacent,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Achieving high vaccination coverage costs considerably less than an outbreak of measles, and economically, as well as medically, it makes no sense at all to wait for measles to strike when we have the means to eliminate this disease.”
According to a 2009 study in Germany, the average cost of a measles case was €520 (equivalent to about US$ 680), including costs such as outpatient consultations and blood tests.
An outbreak in Duisburg, Germany in 2006 led to the 311 schoolchildren affected missing a total of 2854 days of school, and the 30 employed adults affected losing a total of 301 days of work.
A study of 10 western European countries revealed that a mother misses 8–24 hours of work in caring for a child with an uncomplicated case of measles.
Over 2002–2003, the direct costs of measles incurred by the national health service of Italy were €17.6–22 million (about US$ 22.9–29 million). This would have paid for vaccinating up to 1.9 million children, which would also have prevented many cases of mumps and rubella. The 5154 hospitalizations during this period cost about €8.8 million (about US$ 11.5 million).
Measles is highly contagious and requires high immunization coverage (over 95%) of any population if outbreaks are to be prevented. Unfortunately, many countries in the European Region have slipped from previously good vaccination coverage, and there have been over 90 000 cases of measles in the past three years. Outbreaks continue in a number of countries.
“Complacency and unfounded scares about vaccine safety have led to a situation where measles is just waiting to strike in many countries,” said Guenael Rodier, Director of the Division of Communicable Diseases, Health Security and Environment at WHO/Europe. “These countries could find they are hit hard economically. Scrimping on vaccination is a very expensive decision.”
Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunization at the United Kingdom Department of Health, who works extensively for WHO’s global programme for vaccines, said: “It’s important also to take account of the indirect costs of measles, in terms of missed school days, loss of educational momentum and parents having to take days off work to look after their sick children.”
WHO recommends that each child receive two doses of measles vaccine, commonly combined with mumps and rubella vaccine (and called the MMR vaccine). This vaccine is one of the oldest and most effective in the world.