In review: European Immunization Week 2011

WHO/Erik Luntang-Jensen

From right, Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium; Ms Laurette Onkelinx, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Health of Belgium; Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe

An unprecedented 52 Member States took part in European Immunization Week (EIW) 2011. They undertook a broad range of activities and showed strong engagement with the initiative.

Immunization

Over 10 countries used EIW to launch widespread immunization campaigns. Bulgaria used mobile teams to deliver polio vaccines, particularly to Roma neighbourhoods and remote villages. Seven countries, including the central Asian republics and the Russian Federation, synchronized supplementary immunization activities (SIAs) before, during and after EIW, immunizing more than 18 million children against polio.

Advocacy

Countries across the WHO European Region planned and held dozens of meetings, workshops, conferences and training sessions on immunization throughout EIW. 10 Member States met in Albania to discuss the EIW 2011 theme, “Shared solutions to common threats”, as it related to subregional cooperation on vaccination and vulnerable populations in south-eastern Europe. More than 25 countries carried out information campaigns for the general public.

25 countries conducted active media outreach campaigns during EIW, yielding widespread coverage in print, online and broadcast media across the Region. A WHO/Europe press release garnered significant coverage, extending beyond the borders of the Region and being picked up by high-profile international news organizations such as CNN.

Partners

At the regional level, WHO/Europe officially launched EIW 2011 in Brussels, Belgium. Her Royal Highness Princess Mathilde of Belgium, WHO/Europe’s Special Representative for Immunization, took part, along with Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and high-level representatives from partners such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Commission.

The launch was followed by a round-table discussion, in which participants from Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland shared their experience with and lessons learned from measles outbreaks. The participants also renewed their commitment to the goal of eliminating measles from the Region by 2015.

Embracing new media

Campaigns often used traditional methods, such as banners, posters, letters and fliers. Several Member States also used innovative techniques, including the launch of iPhone immunization applications in Ireland and Switzerland, a competition among schoolchildren in Germany to produce pro-immunization commercials and an online test to help determine immunization status in Luxembourg.

WHO/Europe produced a number of multimedia materials for EIW 2011, including a two-part podcast series and several videos posted on the WHO/Europe web site and YouTube. Thousands of people listened to, viewed and/or downloaded these materials throughout EIW. Many members of the EIW campaign site posted blogs, comments and pictures from events.

Next steps

Since WHO/Europe started EIW in 2005, the initiative has grown into one of the most visible public health events in the European Region. EIW 2011 clearly showed how firmly Member States have embraced the initiative. In the coming months, before starting preparations for 2012, WHO/Europe will work to establish a way to help countries evaluate the success of their EIW activities and WHO/Europe’s support for their participation.

Background

On 23–30 April 2011, the sixth EIW provided a platform for WHO/Europe and Member States to raise awareness of immunization and increase the Region’s commitment to maintaining high immunization coverage. EIW 2011 took place against the backdrop of alarming measles outbreaks across the Region, with more than 11 000 cases reported in the first 4 months of the year. In the eastern part of the Region, countries that experienced a polio outbreak in 2010 centred their continuing response and prevention efforts on EIW. Thus, EIW played a critical role at a critical moment for immunization in many countries in the European Region.

Although EIW lasts for only one week in April, it provides important momentum and helps strengthen the commitment needed to carry immunization forward in the European Region. Its message – prevent, protect, immunize – is relevant throughout the year.