UNICEF warns of conditions of possible measles outbreak in Serbia
Belgrade, 22 December 2022 – As the Institute of Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut Public Health of Serbia reported on the drop in immunization coverage rates against all paediatric vaccines in Serbia for 2020 and 2021, UNICEF warns of possible measles outbreak and other vaccine preventable diseases in the country.
This drop in coverage is partially a consequence of the lower access to paediatric services during the pandemic period, but also a result of the so-called “infodemia” and increased anti-vaccines sentiment in the public.
Of particular concern is the drop in Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination coverage – which was 74.8 per cent at the national level, and as low as 24.4 per cent in one of the cities in Serbia 2021. The pool of non-vaccinated and susceptible children increased over the past few years to the level that poses a heightened risk for the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and can trigger larger measles outbreaks. Unfortunately, this would not be the first time this happens in Serbia.
Measles is a serious viral infection that can affect children's health, growth, and development. Apart from its direct effect on the body, which can be lethal, the measles virus also weakens the immune system and makes children more vulnerable to other infectious diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea, including for months after the measles infection itself has passed among those who survive. During the measles epidemic in Serbia between 2017 and 2019, there were several thousand infected and hospitalised and 15 deaths, of which four were children under the age of four.
Vaccines are among the greatest advances in global health and development. For over two centuries, vaccines have safely reduced the scourge of diseases like polio, measles, as well as the long-ago eradicated smallpox, helping children grow up healthy and happy. Thanks to immunization efforts worldwide, children are able to walk, play, dance and learn. Vaccinated children do better at school, with economic benefits that ripple across their local communities. Today, vaccines are estimated to be one of the most effective means of advancing global welfare. They act as a protective shield, keeping families and communities safe.
Nowadays, there exist vaccines to prevent more than twenty-five life-threatening diseases, including the MMR one that in two doses provides life-long protection against three viral diseases. Yet, many countries around the world still struggle to reach all children with vaccines. However, Serbia is in a privileged position that adequate numbers of all required vaccines are readily available for the population.
“Even though a measles outbreak in Serbia seems imminent, it is not inevitable! Quality and safe vaccines are available in Serbia and paediatric services are more accessible now than in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic that is largely behind us,” Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia stressed.
“Mobilisation of key actors in the immunization process - health workers, doctors, paediatricians, nurses, public health professionals involved in health promotion, as well as parents, teachers, decision-makers - can result in swift vaccination of those who missed out on receiving their MMR vaccine doses and thereby increase the protection of all children, particularly those most at risk due to immune weakness. It also reduces risks of outbreak and disease. We call on parents to look for trusted sources of information on vaccines and immunization, to discuss their concerns with health professionals and make the right and informed decision - to have their children vaccinated immediately,” added Kostadinova.
Immunization is one of the key priorities of the Programme of Cooperation between UNICEF and the Government of Serbia 2021 - 2025, recognized also in the multi-year plans of action with the Ministry of Health. UNICEF stands ready to further support the Government, health care providers, and parents to reach the required coverage at or above 95% with 2 doses of the safe and effective MMR vaccine that can protect all children against measles and eliminate or greatly decrease dangerous diseases that can spread from child to child.
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.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org/serbia