Resurgence of measles in France is linked to anti-vaccination push

Yuri Dyachyshyn, AFP | A nurse administers a measles vaccine to a teenager in the school of Lapaivka village near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on February 21, 2019.

UNICEF is sounding the alarm about the increase in measles, with 98 countries reporting a higher number of measles cases in 2018 than in 2017. France is one of the countries responsible for this increase.


The World Health Organization and UNICEF have recently expressed concern about the increase in cases of measles around the world.

Globally, 98 countries reported more measles cases in 2018 than in 2017. This is disappointing news in the fight against this highly preventable but potentially fatal disease, says the UN Children's Agency.

Ukraine, the Philippines and Brazil experienced the largest annual increase in cases. But France is also among the ten countries responsible for about three-quarters of the total increase in cases in 2018. The increase in France between 2017 and 2018 was 2,269 cases, according to UNICEF.

In interview with FRANCE 24, Christian Perronne, an epidemiologist and head of the infectious diseases department at Raymond-Poincaré University Hospital in the western Paris suburb of Garches, explains why France is proving to be a slow learner.

FRANCE 24: Why is UNICEF alarmed about a return of measles?

Christian Perronne: It has already been like this for a number of years. This happens all the time because there is sub-optimal immunisation coverage in many countries. There is excellent vaccination coverage throughout the North and South American continent and measles has been eliminated from all of the Americas. But unfortunately in Europe, this is proving very difficult.

However, there will not be a huge global epidemic because there are still many people vaccinated in many countries. But if these rising numbers continue, there will be regular outbreaks here and there. What is a little worrying at the moment is that it is adults who are contracting measles. They may develop more severe forms than children and some require hospitalisation.

F24: France is one of the main contributors to this upsurge. What are the reasons?

CP: This is because France is a bad student when it comes to vaccinations, and that's not only for measles. There is a lack of confidence on the part of the population because there is a lot of media excitement around vaccines and a lot of negative rumours circulating. This comes up again and again without any studies ever proving these theories, but the scare stories on the Internet do a lot of damage.

People also think that measles is something of a benign disease. It is true that in the past, we all got it when we were young and that, fortunately in most cases, it was not serious. But we must not forget that this can be a very serious disease, especially in Africa, where people are malnourished. In rich countries, complications are rarer, but there are still some complications caused by disease, such as encephalitis, sequelae, paralysis or a progressive neurological disease in the years following measles.

There is also always mistrust of the vaccine because it is given to someone who is in good health. Anti-vaxxers have different beliefs: ecological, religious or dogmatic. It is all very well to let nature do its work, but there were thousands of deaths with epidemics of these diseases before we developed vaccinations to prevent them. People do not realise today that many diseases have disappeared because of vaccines. And, because they no longer see people around them dying from infectious diseases, they think vaccines are useless.

F24: How do you respond to anti-vaxxers?

CP: I tell them that I have vaccinated myself and my children. There is no risk in getting vaccinated. Of course, there are some contraindications that can follow, but they are established. If we follow the usual recommendations, there is no problem. You don't give the measles vaccine to someone who is immunocompromised or only in some special cases. But, in the general population, it's a vaccine that is very well supported. It is therefore a pity to take a risk, when you can avoid the disease. Moreover, if you do not vaccinate yourself, you contribute to transmitting the disease to other more vulnerable people around you.


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