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All Points North #33: Finland's measles scare with virologist Mia Kontio

Isolated cases of measles are popping up in Finland, posing a risk of potential outbreaks. Our podcast considers what officials can do to keep people safe.

Audio: Yle News

A diagnosis of measles in late November prompted a national debate on how to maintain herd immunity in the face of growing hesitancy to take the measles shot. All Points North spoke with Mia Kontio, a senior measles and MMR specialist with the national public health watchdog THL, about the occurrence of measles in a country where coverage has traditionally been very high. The rate seems to be slipping in some areas, as three more unrelated cases of measles were reported in Tampere on Friday.

Kontio said that increasing anti-vaccination sentiment is often due to fear of possible vaccine side effects, but she pointed out that only between 5 and 15 percent of people who are vaccinated will get any symptoms from the jabs, and these are almost always very mild. These mild effects must also be weighed against the potentially very serious health effects of contracting a preventable disease - in addition to the risk of secondary illnesses, she added.

We also heard from Pia Maria Sjöström, medical director at Jakobstad hospital in western Finland, where November's patient zero, an unvaccinated pre-school child, came down with measles and potentially exposed nearly 300 other people to the disease. She also listed some of the many different reasons that some people don't have their children vaccinated.

Both of the podcast's experts agreed that recent calls for some state benefits to be tied to vaccinations and a move to make the jab mandatory are not the best ways to deal with the problem, as people will likely find a way to circumvent the system. Education and outreach continue to be the preferred avenues for tempering vaccination hesitancy, they said.

Independence Day and tunnels top the week's news

All Points North also looked at the top news stories of the week, starting with the 101st Independence Day Ball on December 6. This year's gala had an environmental theme, and Yle News featured an original story on the making of the gown worn by first lady Jenni Haukio at the event. The dress was made from a single birch tree log using an environmentally-friendly and water-efficient Ioncell process developed by the University of Helsinki and Aalto University.

Our audience also latched on to a report that over 90 percent of adults in Finland claim they speak more than one language. Survey results by the state data agency showed that while that's pretty much the same outcome as five years ago, there was a marked improvement among groups with lower levels of education.

The third most popular story of the week was a news item on the progress of a planned undersea rail tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn. The project is fronted by business impresario Peter Vesterbacka of Angry Birds fame and is just one of two intercity rail projects in the pipeline. The other is backed by the Finnish government and the city of Helsinki. Vesterbacka's endeavour has received 100 million euros in funding from a Dubai-based construction group.

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The All Points North podcast is a weekly look at what's going on in Finland. Subscribe via iTunes (and leave a review!), listen on Spotify and Yle Areena or find it on your favourite podcatching app or via our RSS feed.

This week's show was presented by Zena Iovino and Denise Wall, who doubled as co-host and reporter. Our producer was Pamela Kaskinen and sound technician was Juha Sarkkinen.

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