To mark International Day of Immunology (Monday, April 29), Australians are being urged to ensure their children are vaccinated against measles, as a global outbreak has seen a four-fold increase in recorded cases this year.
Immunisation paediatrician Dr Margie Danchin, from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said in Australia already 103 cases of the viral disease have been diagnosed in the first three months of 2019 – the same number for the whole of last year.
“Measles is a very nasty virus that can cause symptoms for up to 10 days, but in some people it results in hospitalisation and serious and life-threatening complications including pneumonia, inflammation or encephalitis of the brain, and also a chronic life threatening condition called SSPE (Subacute Sclerosing Pan-encephalitis), which is fatal,” Dr Danchin said.
“Around the world, measles kills around 100,000 people, mostly children, every year. Please ensure that your child’s vaccinations are up to date – measles can be prevented through giving your child two-doses of measles vaccine (MMR) at 12 and 18 months.”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has in recent months sounded the alarm over slipping global vaccination rates.
So far this year, 170 countries have reported 112,163 measles cases to WHO. At this time last year, 163 countries had reported 28,124 cases.
Dr Danchin said high vaccination rates in Australia have meant the virus has largely been kept at bay. In 2014 WHO declared measles had been eradicated from Australia. But now measles outbreaks are happening because young adults, who have only had one or no doses of the measles vaccine, are travelling overseas and catch the infection and bring it back into Australia.
“Out of every 10 people exposed to measles nine will get it and one primary case can cause up to 18 secondary cases. This is why measles epidemics can spread so quickly,” she said.
“Most measles cases are aged between 20 and 30 years old. They are predominately young travellers who are bringing measles back to Australia. But it is young children, especially those under five years, who get the most serious illness.
“We also have pockets of under vaccination in every state of Australia. You need 95 per cent of the population to be vaccinated to stop measles spreading but there are areas where the coverage rate is as low as 86 per cent. Some of these low coverage areas exist in our capital cities.”
Dr Danchin said measles is the world’s most highly infectious vaccine preventable disease.
Dr Danchin said there are growing concerns over the impact of the anti-vaccination stigma, which is fueled by groups that distort possible harms.
“Vaccine scares, whether rumours or theories about vaccines being harmful, or genuine safety issues, can undermine parents’ confidence in the safety of vaccination,” she said.
“When parents who are scared turn to other parents in their social networks, or through social media for reassurance, they often encounter people who are convinced vaccines are unsafe, or that it is safer to avoid vaccination.”
Dr Danchin said helping to change opinions of parents who are highly hesitant to vaccinate their children needs to be about building their trust and being non-judgmental rather than coming down on them just with facts and figures.
“Immunisation saves lives. It protects you, your family and your community. And it also helps protect future generations by eradicating diseases,” she said. “If anyone has concerns they should speak to their GP or a trusted health care provider for advice.”
• As part of the Day of Immunology Victoria, organised by the Australia and New Zealand Society for Immunology (ASI), the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute is opening its doors to the public. Discovery tours provide a unique opportunity for the community to find out more about medical research, see our state-of-the-art facilities, learn about our exciting discoveries and talk to passionate scientists about their research. The free tours will run on April 30 for about 90 minutes from 10am. For more information, contact Simone Lavelle at firstname.lastname@example.org or register at www.eventbrite.com.au
Available for interview:
• Dr Margie Danchin
Bridie Byrne, MCRI communications specialist
+613 9936 6211 / 0403 664 416
Christine Tondorf, MCRI communications advisor
+613 9936 6197 / 0413 307 092