European Immunization Week 2024

50 years of protecting generations past, present and future through immunization

22 April 2024

Copenhagen, Geneva, Brussels, 22 April 2024 – The establishment of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) 50 years ago was a pivotal moment in the history of public health and has saved millions of lives globally every year. In 1974, only 5% of the world’s children had been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Today, that figure has increased to nearly 85% of children worldwide and 94% in the WHO European Region.

Just five years after the introduction of the EPI, Smallpox was eradicated. Since then, the geographic range of wild poliovirus has been reduced to just two countries, and the threat of several serious infectious childhood diseases has decreased dramatically. Continued innovation in the field of immunology has led to development of vaccines that can protect against even more diseases, opening the possibility in the European Region to eliminate hepatitis B and cervical cancer in the near future.

While we celebrate these monumental achievements, which have protected the health of multiple generations, we remain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented impact on our societies and economies, on health systems and health care delivery.

The decline in vaccination rates in some countries within the European Region between 2020 and 2022 sheds light on the vulnerability of our success. Over the past three years, more than 1.8 million children in the WHO European Region have missed their measles vaccination. The consequence of which is a 60-fold increase in the number of measles cases in 2023 from 2022.

Our resolve to provide the benefits of vaccination to everyone everywhere must not waver. Against the backdrop of - multiple crises and the spread of misinformation in the Region, WHO, UNICEF and the European Commission are committed to continuing our work together, in close cooperation with the Member States across Europe, to bolster health systems and ensure equitable access to immunization services. Together, we will continue to raise awareness about the benefits of vaccination, and boost vaccine confidence to sustain public demand for vaccines, now and in the future. At the same time, we continue to help ensure health systems are adequately prepared for any epidemic and future pandemics. 

In our common goal to ensure healthier and safer lives for current and future generations, it is imperative vaccination remain a critical cornerstone of public health.


50 years ago, building upon progress towards smallpox eradication and recognizing the unmet potential of other vaccines, Member States of the World Health Organization (WHO) committed to offer vaccines to their populations to help control six additional infectious diseases. The benefits of immunization were available to only a small proportion of children worldwide at that time, so the Member States resolved that a child born anywhere should have access to vaccination against poliomyelitis (polio), measles, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis in addition to smallpox. The Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) was born to ensure this access. Over the past 50 years, this focus has expanded throughout the world, extending up to 22 diseases in the European Region.


Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe
Ms Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia
Ms Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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