The World Health Organization called on European nations Wednesday to step up vaccinations against the highly contagious measles virus after an outbreak of over 22,000 cases across the continent since 2014.
"We must collectively respond, without further delay, to close immunization gaps," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO's Europe director. "It is unacceptable that, after the last 50 years' efforts to make safe and effective vaccines available, measles continues to cost lives, money and time."
According to the UN health agency, 22,149 cases of measles have been reported in seven countries across the region since the start of 2014, with Kyrgyzstan, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Russia hit hardest.
However, the outbreak has also struck Georgia, Kazakhstan, Italy and Germany, where an 18-month-old boy died February 18th after coming down with the illness.
Two children in the Copenhagen area have been diagnosed with the measles and around one in five Danish parents currently opts not to vaccinate their children.
A virology professor at the University of Copenhagen warned that Denmark could be looking at “a ticking time bomb”.
“The Danish population includes more and more individuals who grow up without immunity to measles. When measles get introduced to Denmark at some point, which undeniably will happen, we can have serious epidemics,” Allan Randrup Thomsen told Berlingske earlier this month.
Like in Denmark, the resurgence of the preventable disease in other European countries and parts of the United States coincides with a movement among some parents to refuse to vaccinate their children.
Measles causes fever and rash and in severe cases can lead to pneumonia or brain swelling, sometimes fatal. The disease is highly contagious because it is transmitted through the air.
Even if the number of measles cases dropped by 50 percent from 2013-2014, the current epidemic has put into serious doubt the objective of eradicating the disease in Europe by the end of the year.
"The priority is now to control current outbreaks in all affected countries through immunization," Nedret Emiroglu, a deputy director in WHO's Europe office.
Many people who do not vaccinate their children say they fear a triple vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is responsible for increasing cases of autism — a theory repeatedly disproven by various studies.
The controversy dates back to the publication of a now debunked article in the Lancet medical journal in 1998.