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HEALTH

Spain urges measles jab for middle-aged amid fears over ‘anti-vaxxers’

Spanish health experts have called for anyone born between 1970 and 1980 to get a vaccination against measles unless they are absolutely sure they have had both doses as a child, or have had the illness.

Spain urges measles jab for middle-aged amid fears over 'anti-vaxxers'
Measles is on the rise globally. Photo: AFP

Pere Godoy, the head Spain’s Epidemic Society said they are preparing to recommend vaccinations be extended beyond infants to include the adult generation most at risk of catching the disease.

Those born in the 1970s are considered most at risk because they were born after the highly infectious viral illness was prevalent so are unlikely to have contracted it, but before the introduction of the effective triple vaccine MMR was introduced.

A national campaign is planned to raise awareness of the risks of measles – not just to unimmunised children – and urge middle aged adults to check whether they have been innocualted and if not book a jab.

Although Spain has been on the list of countries were Measles is considered eradicated since 2016, there has been a recent surge in the number of cases detected.

In the first half of 2019, some 300 people were treated for measles just in Catalonia and Madrid, a figure blamed on thegrowing numbers of anti-vaxxers – those people who choose not to immunise their children because of “dangerous” myths about vaccines.


Photo: AFP

This year, in the first half of 2019, there have been a total of 233 cases of measles diagnosed – a slight rise on the six months before –  but medical authorities confirmed these were 'imported' from outside Spain's borders or patients infected from those with imported measles, and that they were 'swiftly contained' to ensure nobody else caught it.

But this year, measles has officially returned to four European nations previously seen as free of the illness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The disease is no longer considered eradicated in Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and the UK.

“We are backsliding, we are on the wrong track,” said Kate O'Brien of the WHO's Immunization Department.

Countries are declared measles-free when there is no endemic transmission for 12 months in a specific geographic area.

Close to 365,000 cases have been reported worldwide this year, the WHO said, almost three times as many as in the first half of 2018.

Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness that causes coughing, rashes and fever.

It is not normally life-threatening in healthy children and young people, but complications can set in and it can cause serious birth defects or miscarriage in pregnant women, and be much more severe in late adulthood.

READ ALSO No vaccination, no nursery: Galicia plans ban against anti-vax movement 

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HEALTH

How Spain could stamp out smoking

A fifth of Spain's population smokes on a daily basis. With such high numbers, here's how the country's pulmonologists propose to get smokers to quit.

Spain plans to get people to quit smoking
How Spain plans to get people to stop smoking. Photo: Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

For many outsiders, Spain is a nation of smokers. 

The stats from Spain’s Ministry of Health show that 23.3 percent of men smoke every day in Spain, compared with 16.4 percent of women.

For both males and females, the highest number of smokers are aged between 25 and 34, meaning that it’s the younger population who are smoking slightly more than the older generations. 

Spain’s pulmonologists are now pushing for the country’s tobacco laws to be tightened, claiming that reform is needed after the last legislation was approved a decade ago.

READ ALSO: Spain warns against smoking and vaping in public to avoid Covid infections

Why is smoking such a problem in Spain and what is being done about it?

The latest stats from the Spanish Ministry of Health show that lung cancer, often caused by smoking, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in Spain, with 29,549 cases diagnosed so far in 2021.

Given these high figures Spain’s Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) has proposed five measures to help get people to stop smoking.

SEPAR points out that every time anti-smoking legislation is reformed and things for smokers made more difficult, the prevalence of smoking decreases.  

Smoking on terraces was banned in some regions during the pandemic. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP
  • Price of tobacco to rise in 2022

The first point on their list is to raise the price of tobacco, which must cover all forms, from cigarettes to cigars, through to rolling tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.  

This first measure may soon become a reality as the Spanish government has already predicted that the price of tobacco will rise in 2022, after several years of stagnation.  

It is expected that tobacco will be responsible for almost a third of all special taxes received in 2022, equating to €21.8 billion.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “cheap tobacco” in Spain guarantees “a percentage of smokers above 30 percent”.

In Spain, the price of a pack of tobacco is around €5, which is much cheaper than in other countries. In Australia for example, a pack of tobacco costs around €22, and in the United Kingdom and France, each pack of tobacco costs around €12.4 and €10.5, respectively.

According to Dr. Carlos A. Jiménez Ruiz, pulmonologist and president of the society, the current anti-smoking law has “some deficiencies” that need to be addressed in order to develop legislation that is more effective and efficient, especially with regard to the prevention of tobacco consumption in young people, but also in helping smokers to stop smoking and in protecting the health of non-smokers. 

READ ALSO – Maps: Which beaches in Spain have banned smoking?

Besides increasing the cost of tobacco SEPAR proposes four other measures to get Spain to quit smoking. These include:

  • Banning the consumption of tobacco in public spaces, even outdoors
    During the pandemic, several regions approved a regulation to prohibit smoking on terraces. SEPAR proposes that smoking be prohibited not only in spaces such as terraces but also in sports stadiums, beaches, parks and bullrings, and that fines should be imposed for those who do not comply.

  • Establish generic packaging
    SEPAR also wants Spain to introduce generic packaging, which means no logos and images of the tobacco companies. This measure has also proven to lower the sales of tobacco in countries where it has been implemented, such as Australia and New Zealand. According to the latest statistics from the Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey around 11.6 percent of adults in Australia smoke daily. 

  • The regulation of other smoking devices
    Despite the fact that all products that burn tobacco such as cigarettes are already regulated, SEPAR believes that it is also necessary to regulate the sale, consumption and advertising of electronic cigarettes. This is because e-cigarettes have become particularly popular among young people. 

  • Promote help for those seeking to quit smoking
    The last proposal is the creation and development of special units in public health departments to help people to stop smoking and to put more funds towards these programmes. 

How does Spain compare with other European countries when it comes to smoking?

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), while Spain does have a high number of smokers there are still several European countries that have more. The European countries with the highest number of smokers are Greece, Bulgaria and Hungary.

The latest European survey from 2020 shows that 42 percent of Greeks claim to be smokers, which is only slightly above Spain. 

On the other side, the European countries with the lowest number of smokers are mainly Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Norway.

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