Rise in measles and whooping cough due to pandemic dip and low vaccine uptake, ECDC says

Ireland has seen a rise in number of cases of measles and whooping cough over last 12 months


The increase in cases of measles and whooping cough in the European Union is a result of low levels of the disease during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as “suboptimal” vaccine uptake, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said.

In the European Union, there were 200 cases of measles reported in 2022. However over the past 12 months, there have been almost 6,000 cases, and at least five deaths.

In Ireland, the latest figures, up to April 17th, show there have been 16 confirmed cases of measles, and two outbreaks since the start of the year. There has also been one death.

There has also been an increase in perstassis, or whooping cough, with the ECDC stating preliminary figures showing a 10-fold increase in the number of cases since mid-2023, when compared to the same period between 2021 and 2022.


Ireland has also seen a rise in the number of perstassis cases in recent months. Over the past 12 weeks, weekly case numbers have varied from 0 to 11, before falling to five last week.

Speaking at the beginning of European Immunisation Week on Monday, Andrea Ammon, Director of the ECDC, said today the world is confronting new challenges, such as new diseases or disease thought to be under control.

“This increase in levels of these diseases ... are likely linked to several factors. One is the lower disease circulation during the pandemic years, combined with suboptimal uptake also in the same time frame. Then immunity that declines over time.”

There were cohorts of society that had particularly low vaccination uptake, Ms Ammon said, primarily those who had a language or socio-economic barrier to accessing the health service. These groups also have a higher scepticism of vaccines, she said.

A recent report by the ECDC, published last August, found Ireland has the lowest immunisation rate against measles in western Europe.

Dr Sabrina Bacci, head of vaccine-preventable diseases at the ECDC, said the highest burden of these diseases is on infants.

“These are the most vulnerable in society [to measles]. We must protect our infants by ensuring all those around them are vaccinated,” she said.

“According to ECDC data, 90 per cent of measles cases are within unvaccinated people. Data also shows one out of four measles cases are in adults. Vaccines are still today one of the most live-saving interventions.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times