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.
Most countries in Europe and Central Asia have immunization coverage of 95 per cent or more for three doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), often seen as the measure of national performance on immunization.
Nevertheless, measles outbreaks and low vaccination rates in parts of the region remind us of the need for constant vigilance and for greater efforts to achieve – and sustain – universal routine immunization to protect children against deadly, but easily preventable, diseases.
While most national averages for DTP vaccination may be adequate, the regional average is hovering at around 91 per cent – which is not high enough to ensure immunity for everyone. National averages also mask disparities, with Roma children, those from other ethnic groups and refugee and migrant children all lagging behind.
Despite increased vaccine coverage against measles (up from 63 per cent in 2000 to 91 per cent in 2015) around 525,000 children in the region are still not protected against this preventable, life-threatening 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.