HOPES of banishing measles from Europe by next year may have been dashed by poor vaccination rates in a handful of countries that included Britain, researchers claim.
A new study has documented more than 12,000 cases of measles in Europe in the two years spanning 2006 and 2007.
All but 15 per cent occurred in just five countries – the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Romania – and most were infections of unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children.
In Britain, a slump in vaccine take-up has been blamed on unfounded fears about the possible side-effects of the triple measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab.
With measles infection rates rising, this has led in turn to concerns about the possibility of an epidemic.
The new research, reported in an online edition of The Lancet medical journal, looks into the World Health Organisation's stated goal of eliminating measles from Europe by 2010.
It concludes that if the situation does not change, achieving this target will not be possible.
"The sub-optimum vaccination coverage raises serious doubts that the goal (of] elimination by 2010 can be attained," the authors wrote.
Dr Mark Muscat, from the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, and colleagues analysed measles data from 32 European countries.
They found that in 2006 and 2007, a total of 12,132 cases of measles were recorded with 85 per cent occurring in just five countries. Although the vast majority involved children, almost a fifth of cases were adults aged 20 or over.