European Region far from target for influenza vaccine uptake

In the WHO European Region, 94% of countries recommend that elderly people be offered the seasonal influenza vaccine. More than 90% of deaths related to seasonal influenza have been estimated to occur among those aged over 65. Not only is influenza likely to be more severe in this age group, but also hospitalization rates are higher, outbreaks are common in homes for elderly people, and many take a long time to recover from influenza infection.

In countries where vaccine-uptake data are available, however, only 1 achieved the WHO and European Commission target of over 75% coverage among elderly people by 2010, and many fell far short. In several countries, no data on vaccine uptake are available.

Target groups for influenza vaccine

In addition to elderly people and residents of nursing homes, WHO recommends that pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, residents of institutions for disabled people, health care workers and small children (aged 6–59 months) should be offered the seasonal influenza vaccine. The recommendation is based on the burden of disease, cost–effectiveness, feasibility and other considerations.

National recommendations for these groups vary widely between countries, and data on their vaccine uptake are usually very limited.

Ways to address low uptake levels and lack of data

Speaking at the World Vaccine Congress on 17 October, Dr Caroline Brown, Programme Manager for Influenza at WHO/Europe, identified ways to address low uptake levels and lack of data. She suggested that national health authorities:

  • estimate the burden of influenza and assess the costs and benefits of influenza vaccination programmes;
  • prioritize risk groups in settings with limited access to vaccines; and
  • establish monitoring of vaccine uptake and adverse events following immunization.

In addition, WHO and Member States should continue to work to improve the public’s perception of influenza vaccines.