The Irish Times view on measles and vaccination: anti-science propaganda must be rejected

A decline in the number of children receiving the MMR vaccine is leading to a fall the percentage of the population who have immunity

The recent death of a 48-year-old man in Mullingar hospital has highlighted deepening concern among medical experts in Ireland and across Europe at the increasing threat of measles. The man had contracted the disease following a trip to the UK, which has seen a number of outbreaks in recent months.

In January, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that yearly cases of measles in Europe have risen 45-fold and called for urgent efforts to improve European vaccination rates to prevent further spread.

Measles can lead to serious complications, lifelong disability and even death. In Ireland, there were four confirmed cases reported in 2023, two in 2022, none in 2021 and five in 2020. There were no deaths reported in any of those years. A catch-up measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccination programme is now being deployed under the direction of the National Immunisation Office

Why are measles rates rising? One factor is that the number is measured against a very low base rate of infection due to restrictions on movement and travel during the Covid pandemic. Another is that fewer people accessed the MMR vaccine during the pandemic, and that the post-lockdown return to free movement increased chances of infection. But the root cause is a worrying long-term decline in the number of children receiving the MMR, which is leading to a fall the overall percentage of people who have immunity.


The WHO estimates that 95 per cent of the population need to be immune to stop the spread of measles. The overall European figure is now at 91 to 92 per cent. MMR vaccine uptake in Ireland has been below 90 per cent for seven consecutive quarters.

A false sense of security may partly account for why some parents do not bring their children for vaccination, but the rise in outright anti-vaccination beliefs is also a factor. Since Andrew Wakefield’s discredited study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was first published in 1998, similar false allegations have continued to circulate, amplified by conspiracy theorists and promoters of “alternative medicine”. Those theories have become entwined with extreme political viewpoints since the pandemic, when vaccination became a fertile culture war battleground for the far-right and others. As a result, unscientific opinions with no basis in fact have been given a sheen of legitimacy they do not deserve. Independent US presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, for example, espouses these views and currently stands at almost 20 per cent in some opinion polls.

It is important that health authorities use all the resources at their disposal to inform and educate the public on the benefits of vaccination. But it is also vital for civil society to vigorously rebut the falsehoods and disinformation being spread by anti-vaccination propagandists..