Immunization in Europe “at crossroads”

Vaccines and immunization have contributed to dramatic health improvements in the WHO European Region, particularly among children. Globally, there were a 99% reduction in poliomyelitis (polio) cases and a 78% reduction in measles mortality between 2000 and 2008.

Thanks to collaborative efforts, the Region is on the threshold of eliminating measles and rubella. The benefits of vaccination are increasingly extended to adolescents and adults, providing protection against life-threatening diseases such as influenza, meningitis and cancer.

Yet this progress faces several threats: high levels of population movement, the existence of unimmunized groups because of limited access to health care services and a continuing decline in vaccine acceptance among populations. Today, the Region must deal with recent and continuing measles outbreaks, and the re-emergence of polio last year.

Speaking at the opening of a high-level conference in Budapest, Hungary today, Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, stated that on immunization issues, Europe “stands at a crossroads”. Despite the challenges, Ms Jakab remains confident that the European Region will achieve its goals of remaining polio free and eliminating measles and rubella, as well as reducing mortality from other vaccine-preventable diseases. This, she underlined, will be achieved by continuing collaboration and innovation, joint planning and the implementation of effective preventive measures.

One opportunity to collaborate highlighted by Ms Jakab is European Immunization Week, taking place this year on 23–30 April. WHO/Europe coordinates this initiative, which aims to highlight the benefits of vaccination and raise awareness about such issues as lack of access to both traditional and new vaccines.

Conference “For a Healthy Future of Our Children”

The Government of Hungary organized the conference on childhood immunization as part of its activities as President of the Council of the European Union (EU). Hungary holds the Presidency from 1 January to 30 June 2011.

Held on 3–4 March 2011, the conference is jointly organized by the Hungarian Presidency, the European Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and WHO/Europe.

Its aims to increase awareness of the importance of achieving and maintaining high childhood immunization coverage, and brings together representatives of health ministries and senior public health experts and epidemiologists from the EU and EU candidate countries. The conference focuses on:

  • addressing the achievements of and challenges to childhood immunization;
  • reviewing cross-border issues, including increasing mobility and migration, which raise a number of health security questions;
  • discussing the monitoring of vaccination coverage;
  • sharing experience with special efforts to improve immunization in general and in undervaccinated population groups; and
  • considering shared responsibilities for action by countries and the EU.

WHO/Europe is represented by Ms Jakab, who opened the conference, and three experts who are delivering lectures and chairing sessions.

Priorities of WHO/Europe’s immunization programme

  • Eliminating measles and rubella from the Region by 2015
  • Sustaining the Region’s polio-free status
  • Ensuring equitable access to safe, affordable vaccines
  • Strengthening national immunization programmes in the context of overall health-system development
  • Supporting the introduction of new and underutilized vaccines, using safe injection practices
  • Strengthening national surveillance systems for vaccine-preventable diseases, including laboratory networks