Threat of outbreaks in EU/EEA countries due to persistent gaps in vaccination coverage

While the European Region was declared polio-free in 2002, the virus continues to be detected periodically in its wild form or as vaccine-derived strains in other regions. Owing to adequate surveillance methods and generally high vaccination coverage, these sporadic events have fortunately not led to sustained transmission in the EU/EEA or the detection of human cases.

Andrea Ammon, ECDC Director said:

“As long as there are non-vaccinated or under-vaccinated population groups in European countries and polio is not eradicated globally, the risk of the virus being reintroduced in Europe remains. Furthermore, in the case of measles, which is highly transmissible, the virus can find its way to spread in pockets of unprotected populations when vaccination coverage is sub-optimal. This may lead to outbreaks that can create a burden on health systems, including in countries that have eliminated meals.”

Despite the proven safety and efficacy of vaccines, countries from the EU/EEA as well as from around the globe continue to see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases due to insufficient vaccination coverage rates.

Regardless of the overall good performance of the EU/EEA immunization programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the tremendous efforts to make those happen, there are significant vaccination gaps and disparities between vaccination coverage among different countries and regions.

While the Measles Annual Epidemiological Report shows a 99 per cent decrease in cases in 2022 compared with 2018, this was likely due to the prevention and control measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Data show that infants below one year of age remain the group with the highest incidence of measles, as they are too young to be vaccinated and should therefore be protected by community immunity.

Given the sub-optimal vaccination coverage in several countries, it is likely that we will observe increases in the number of reported cases of measles across the EU/EEA in the future.

European Immunization Week is a key moment to raise awareness of the benefits and importance of vaccination for the general health and well-being of people, throughout their lives. It is also an opportunity to remind everyone that vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century.

Continuous efforts are therefore essential to identify immunity gaps in people of all ages, including those who may have missed or delayed vaccination, especially in hard-to-reach populations such as refugees, migrants, asylum seekers and other vulnerable and underserved populations.

Accelerated efforts to improve immunisation campaigns and promote vaccine acceptance and uptake are necessary to achieve and sustain high vaccination coverage against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Supporting and strengthening national routine vaccination programs remains a key priority for ECDC, on the principles of quality, safety, and efficacy of vaccines, as well as timely and equitable access.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo

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