BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania needs to pass a vaccination law and overhaul medical services to prevent the spread of a measles outbreak that has already claimed 32 deaths, the most of any European country, the health ministry said late on Wednesday.
Vaccination rules are being tightened across Europe, where a decline in immunization has caused a spike in diseases such as measles, chicken pox and mumps, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
In European Union state Romania, the ministry said 224,202 children aged 9 months to 9 years had yet to be vaccinated against measles, a highly contagious virus that spreads through direct contact and through the air and that remains one of the biggest killers of children worldwide.
Since a measles outbreak started in Feb. 2016, Romania has reported 8,246 cases of both children and adults, including 32 deaths across the country but especially in some western counties where the vaccination rate was below 50 percent.
The decline in immunization rates accelerated over the last two years as parents failed to register with family physicians, refused vaccination for their children but also because of regular shortages of the vaccine.
The lack of a clear nationwide record of children eligible for vaccines was a problem, as thousands of villages in Romania did not have access to basic healthcare and family doctors. The country's Roma minority was especially at risk.
On Wednesday, the health minister fired the county managers in areas with low vaccination rates and said a draft of a vaccination law would soon be discussed by the government.
Interrupting transmission of measles requires at least 95 percent vaccination coverage with two doses.
The health ministry said that in 2016, the coverage rate stood at 86 percent for the first dose and 67 percent for the second.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Michael Perry)