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Number of people with measles tripled in Europe in 2018, WHO says

Dr. Orin Levine: Vaccinations are a collective responsibility

A record number of people in Europe were infected with measles in 2018 as the number of cases tripled from the year before, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

"More children in the WHO European Region are being vaccinated against measles than ever before; but progress has been uneven between and within countries, leaving increasing clusters of susceptible individuals unprotected, and resulting in a record number of people affected by the virus in 2018," the United Nations agency said this week in a news release.

More than 82,000 people in Europe contracted the virus, which killed 72 people. 

"The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade: 3 times the total reported in 2017 and 15 times the record low number of people affected in 2016," WHO said. 

The agency said the spike in the number of cases came after European nations reached an estimated coverage rate of 90 percent in 2017 for the second dose of the measles vaccine -- the highest rate ever. First-dose coverage also rose to 95 percent, which WHO said is the highest since 2013. 

"The picture for 2018 makes it clear that the current pace of progress in raising immunization rates will be insufficient to stop measles circulation," said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO's regional director for Europe. "While data indicate exceptionally high immunization coverage at (the) regional level, they also reflect a record number affected and killed by the disease. This means that gaps at (the) local level still offer an open door to the virus."

The U.S. has been facing its own challenges with the virus, which is so contagious that an unvaccinated person has a 90 percent chance of catching the disease if they're near someone who has it, CBS News' Carter Evans reported. The virus can survive for up to two hours in a room where an infected person sneezed.

Washington state has been facing a measles outbreak with more than 50 cases. Measles vaccination rates at the outbreak's epicenter are now up by 500 percent, and lawmakers in Washington are proposing a bill that would no longer allow parents to cite philosophical or personal reasons for not vaccinating their child.

But opponents of the bill still think the measles vaccine is a bigger threat than the disease itself.

"I don't feel I'm putting my child at risk. There's nothing that's going to change my mind on this on that specific vaccination," said mother Monique Murray.  

On Friday, hundreds rallied to preserve their right not to vaccinate their children.   

Washington lawmakers debate vaccination bill amid measles outbreak
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