Saving lives one dose at a time - Immunization across Europe and Central Asia

Protected together, #VaccinesWork

By Emily Subden
Five-month-old Matviy pulls a face as he receives his DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine at a children's clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0201066/Krepkih

27 April 2018

Vaccines protect children against disease and death, saving up to 3 million lives globally every year, and are one of the most cost-effective child survival interventions. In short, #VaccinesWork.

The Europe and Central Asia Region continues to enjoy overall high childhood immunization coverage and is polio-free. The benefits of vaccines, however, are spread unevenly. Too many children are still missing the protection they deserve.

A mother in Serbia holds her baby during her free vaccination as part of the Serbia's national immunization plan.
UNICEF/UN040868/Bicanski
A mother in Serbia holds her baby during her free vaccination as part of the Serbia's national immunization plan.

Of particular concern is a rebounding of measles in the region, despite a record-low of new cases in 2016, causing over 33,000 cases and 79 deaths. The largest current outbreaks have been in Romania (12,368 cases and 49 deaths including 46 children), Ukraine (16,500 cases, 13 deaths including nine children) and Serbia. 

Although Serbia has a long and successful tradition in child-health protection, it is currently facing a measles outbreak with nearly 5,000 cases (as of 24 April 2018) which have resulted in 15 fatalities. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to support its response and to improve records of immunization in the future.

A little boy cries as he receives a routine vaccination at a clinic in Moldova.
UNICEF/Moldova/2017/Foca
A little boy cries as he receives a routine vaccination at a clinic in Moldova.

Due to universal vaccinations of newborns in Moldova, cases of Hepatis B have dropped from 682 in 1994 to only four in 2015. However, only 89 percent of all children are immunized against all preventable diseases and UNICEF has been working with the government to precure more vaccine doses to ensure all children have access to immunizations. 

A young boy puts on a brave face as he receives his second dose of the MMR vaccine in Kyiv, Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0201063/Krepkih
A young boy puts on a brave face as he receives his second dose of the MMR vaccine in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Two-thirds of the world’s unvaccinated children live in fragile countries or countries affected by armed conflict. Between 2010 and 2016, conflict-affected eastern Ukraine had the world’s second lowest coverage rate of children fully immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. The country also had the third lowest coverage rate in the world for MMR vaccine in 2016.

A plane with a crate of UNICEF-labelled MMR vaccines next to it.
UNICEF/UN0184725/Krepkih
On the 26 February, 220,000 doses of the MMR vaccine arrived in Ukraine facilitated by UNICEF.

UNICEF in Ukraine is helping to fast-track the delivery of MMR vaccines, assisting the Ministry of Health to respond to the recent measles outbreak in which 14,500 people have been infected – killing 13 people including nine children.

Nine-month-old Sasha gets a kiss from his mother, after receiving the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DTP) vaccine in Kyiv.
UNICEF/UN0201127/Maloletka
Nine-month-old Sasha gets a kiss from his mother, after receiving the diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DTP) vaccine in Kyiv.

Vaccine hesitancy has also become an issue in Ukraine but UNICEF is working to change attitudes and educate people on the dangers of not vaccinating their children. “Before his birth, we decided we would give our child all the necessary vaccinations,” says Sasha's father. “When my grandmother was a child, she got polio and, although she recovered from the illness, she was disabled for life. As caring parents, we want to protect Sasha from all sorts of infections.”

In Turkey, a boy receives a dose of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).
UNICEF/UN01323/Yurtsever
In Turkey, a boy receives a dose of the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV).

UNICEF Turkey is supporting a vaccination program, led by the Ministry of Health. The campaign has included nine rounds of polio campaigns reaching 1.4 million refugee and migrant children and Turkish children in remote provinces between 2013-2015, and the provision of additional doses of MMR, Hepatitis B, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio and Haemophilus in 2017.

A health worker vaccinates a one-year-old Syrian refugee boy at a neighbourhood health centre in Gaziantep, Turkey.
UNICEF Turkey/2018/Rich
A health worker vaccinates a one-year-old Syrian refugee boy at a neighbourhood health centre in Gaziantep, Turkey.

UNICEF has also helped produce and disseminate information materials, in both Turkish and Arabic, to raise awareness about the importance of being immunized.

A young baby receives her vaccination injection in Uzbekistan.
UNICEF/UZBA240418/Usova
In Uzbekistan, four-month-old Ziyoda receives a dose of the new polio vaccine - 'Inactivated Polio Vaccine’ (IPV) - which is designed to help stop polio globally.

Despite Uzbekistan having an almost 99 percent coverage rate of the Polio vaccine, UNICEF continues to work with the Government to ensure that no child is left unimmunized in the future.

A group of women wait for their children to be vaccinated at a village clinic in Uzbekistan.
UNICEF/UNI164766/Noorani
A group of women wait for their children to be vaccinated at a village clinic in Uzbekistan.

Ensuring vaccination levels are high in every country across the region is essential. UNICEF is working to ensure all children are protected against the spread of vaccine-preventable childhood diseases and the best defence is a vaccine-protected population and a strong and responsive health system. The whole region benefits when ALL countries achieve and maintain high vaccine coverage at both national and subnational levels.