Health board wants companies to vaccinate Ukrainian workers against measles

Patient receiving a vaccine.
Patient receiving a vaccine. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The Health Board is recommended companies employing Ukrainian migrants workers have their staff vaccinated after an outbreak of measles in Ukraine, Akuaalne kaamera reported.

There have been 26 diagnosed cases of measles in Estonia this year, and while children are generally vaccinated, there is a risk of infection for adults who have not been vaccinated or were vaccinated decades ago.

For decades, there have been very few outbreaks of measles in Europe, but since August last year, almost 130,000 cases have been detected. The main area of concern is Ukraine which has had 82,000 cases. There have also been 825 cases of measles in Lithuania this year. Since August last year, there have been 36 cases in Estonia, of which 26 were diagnosed in 2019.

In light of the Ukrainian measles epidemic, the Health Board is recommending vaccinations for employees of companies using Ukrainian migrant workers.

Chief specialist at the Health Board Irina Filippova said: "Most cases in Estonia have been imported from other countries, and most have been imported from Ukraine, where the measles situation is very serious."

About 20,000 Ukrainian workers pass through Estonia during the year, and they are the biggest concern for the Health Board at the moment.

"We are appealing for employers who hire people from Ukraine to vaccinate them against measles here in Estonia, whether or not they have a vaccination document, because those documents may be falsified," Filippova said.

Family doctor Le Vallikivi said: "This is undoubtedly very worrying. We can compare with our neighbors and Latvia and Lithuania and say that we have so far escaped this bigger epidemic, but in reality, 26 cases are very problematic, especially given that most doctors have never seen measles in their lifetime."

While 95% of children in Estonia have been vaccinated against measles, the problem is with adults who have not had it or have received the vaccine before 1993 when it was of insufficient quality. Most of Estonia's measles patients have been adults.

"We also have recommendations for vaccinating those adults who have never received the vaccine or have received a vaccine of dubious quality, but we also have supply difficulties with it, which means sometimes we have the vaccine, sometimes we don't," Vallikivi said. "These people are spending their own money to get vaccinated anyway. Thankfully it isn't a very expensive vaccine, but in any case it is something to keep in mind."

The Health Board confirms that the vaccine is currently available in Estonia for both children and adults and can be vaccinated by a family doctor. 

Earlier this year the Health Board launched a campaign to get parents to vaccinate their children.

"The goal of the campaign is to remind people of the fact that vaccination is the best means of protecting themselves as well as their children from infectious diseases," said Health Board Director General Merike Jürilo, adding that immunization coverage in Estonia has fallen at an average rate of 0.3 percent per year in recent years.

In 2017, ERR News reported there had also been an increase in the number of unvaccinated children in Estonia. As of the end of 2016, a total of 7,481 children were unvaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella, over 60 percent of whom lived in Tallinn.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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