In the wake of several Ebola-related incidents in recent months, Singapore Airlines has instructed its cabin crew to comply with global standards for the measles and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
In a safety note seen by The Straits Times, which described the measures as rigorous, the carrier said it wants to “continue to safeguard the health and well-being of its employees and guests.”
But health officials told the newspaper that “these policies are likely to lead to a significant number of crew and passengers being diagnosed with the measles as every crew member has to be vaccinated.”
“We haven’t seen a similar case in our country, but airlines around the world are beginning to treat measles as a health risk so they take whatever measures they can,” Larry Ruberry, who runs medical diplomacy program at Johns Hopkins, told The Straits Times.
“What would most cause concern is that Singaporeans do travel abroad. Once airlines employ measles vaccination as standard procedure to protect their crews and passengers, these won’t be surprises.”
Measles is known for causing severe illnesses in some people and has been significantly curtailed since it was described as a global pandemic. In some parts of the world, most notably Africa, in 2012 there were more than 1.2 million reported cases.
But there are pockets of ongoing transmission in Asia, particularly China and Myanmar.
The measles vaccine was invented in Germany in 1938 but is still a controversial topic in some quarters. The Washington Post’s Devesh Kapur reviewed the scientific debate, citing some critics who say the vaccine does not have all the necessary protection.
In several Ebola outbreaks around the world, the nature of the disease – like Zika, which is rapidly spreading – has made it impossible to establish the extent of the problem. But one study showed the virus has been reported as far away as Indonesia, where it has reportedly been transmitted to humans by monkeys. Another found that people with Ebola antibodies are more likely to catch another disease, possibly a dengue virus.
For airlines, determining the extent of any threat can be tricky. Experts said it was not unusual for airlines to have loose language about vaccines in their safety guidelines. The best protections are comprehensive programs for implementing the best measures, they said.
Most notably, according to CNN, federal government standards require a man to pass two separate measles vaccination tests, as well as a follow-up in the first year after a measles vaccination.