Greece, facing a surge in unvaccinated children, has stepped up border controls at two official entry points. The Health Ministry announced Sunday that those passing through the Samos and Chios ports would require photo identification in order to have their children immunized against serious illnesses.
The announcement comes as officials struggle to maintain the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union. Earlier this month, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned that measles — a highly contagious illness that can cause brain damage and death — is on the rise in the 28-nation bloc, partly because people are not getting their children vaccinated.
According to Eurostat, Greece recorded 257 deaths from measles last year, nearly triple the number reported the year before. Other EU countries also saw dramatic surges: In 2013, the last year for which data was available, 10.6 percent of Greek children were not up to date with the vaccination. This year, that number spiked to 16.5 percent, the second-lowest rate in the EU behind Bulgaria, which accounts for 5.5 percent of the European population.
The Health Ministry warned parents who do not get their children vaccinated that it has the authority to expel them. According to previous statistics, about 1 in 6 Greeks was not vaccinated against measles, accounting for an estimated 1.1 million people who are potential epidemics.
Symptoms include a high fever, a blotchy rash and runny nose. Measles is highly contagious, and children who have not been vaccinated risk serious complications, including deafness and brain damage. Children who do not receive proper vaccinations may go on to develop more serious disease, including pneumonia.
So far, however, the outbreak appears to be confined to Greece. In a statement released Nov. 22, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that outbreaks of measles are rapidly spreading in many areas of the U.S. Since May, 87 cases have been reported, with five fatalities. Most patients contracted the virus while traveling to foreign countries, according to the CDC.