Immunization is a proven and cost-effective public health intervention, saving the lives of millions of children and protecting millions more from illness and disability.
Immunization is also a wise financial investment - with every $1 invested in immunization returning an estimated $16 in health-care savings and increased economic productivity.
Most countries in Europe and Central Asia have immunization coverage of 95 percent or more for three doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), often seen as the measure of national performance on immunization. However, while most national averages for DTP vaccination may be adequate, the regional average is hovering at around 92 percent, a slight decrease from the previous year, which is not high enough to ensure immunity for everyone.
Over 70 percent of the region’s unvaccinated infants are from middle income countries, with Ukraine presenting the lowest coverage rate and the greatest challenge.
National averages also mask disparities, with Roma children and those from other ethnic and vulnerable groups, including refugee and migrant children, all lagging behind.
Measles outbreaks are a growing problem. Last year there were over 10,000 cases of measles in the region. Despite increased coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine among children (up from 63 percent in 2000 to 93 percent in 2016) more work is urgently needed, as children are not fully protected against measles unless they receive two doses. Currently, second dose coverage is at 88 percent, which does not provide adequate protection.
In total, over 500,000 children in the region are still not protected against measles - a life-threatening, but easily preventable disease.
There are also concerns about ‘vaccine hesitancy’ – a growing mistrust of immunization among some parents, fuelled by myths and misinformation. Such hesitancy may stem from negative media stories linking a child’s death to immunization without the full facts. It may be influenced by the region’s anti-vaccine movements, which spread anti-immunization messages. Meanwhile, measures to counter vaccine hesitancy and build parental trust in immunization are hampered by a lack of discussion with parents about its importance and the minimal risks.