Greece extends vaccination to refugees and migrants

WHO/Sara Barragan Montes

Two vaccination campaigns for the refugee and migrant population in Greece will begin in early May 2016, in order to ensure that all those who require vaccination receive it. Vaccination will be provided according to Greece's national immunization schedule. The first campaign, led by Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), will cover approximately 6000 individuals in Idomeni, and the second will cover approximately 20 000 individuals in the rest of the country.

Approximately 50 000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants currently live in about 50 centres and camps across Greece. 60% of the total refugee and migrant population in the country are women and minors, and one in three is a child. Specific public health interventions are needed because the country is now hosting people for longer, and the demographic pattern of those staying has changed.

In mid-March 2016, WHO/Europe met with the Hellenic Ministry of Health and identified four priorities to address the changing situation. Vaccination for migrants remaining in Greece for more than 1 week was recognized as a key aspect of the response, and the Greek Advisory Committee on Immunization has decided to undertake vaccination campaigns.

WHO support

WHO has donated 26 000 yellow vaccination booklets to ensure that each person's vaccinations given are documented, to help avoid unnecessary revaccination.

In addition, WHO and partners are actively supporting the identification of vaccine stocks that can be used for the campaigns, engaging with partners and Member States.

WHO is providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Health, reviewing the vaccination plans and ensuring that vaccines are provided in an equitable manner with a systematic, sustainable, non-stigmatizing approach.

Children particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases

Children, who constitute one third of the total refugee and migrant population, are especially prone to acute conditions, such as respiratory diseases, diarrhoea and skin infections. Those at greatest risk for vaccine-preventable diseases are young children who have not yet been vaccinated because the vaccination programmes in their home countries have been interrupted by civil unrest and war.

While there is no systematic association between communicable diseases and migration, frequent population movement, living in overcrowding settings and vaccination gaps in some host countries may increase the risk for spread of vaccine-preventable diseases. The current mass population movement, lack of sufficient water and inadequate shelter and sanitation conditions increase the risks for acquiring communicable diseases.

Maintaining progress towards measles and rubella elimination

European Immunization Week, taking place from 24 to 30 April 2016, is dedicated to maintaining momentum in the fight to eliminate measles and rubella from the European Region. 32 European Member States, including Greece, had interrupted endemic transmission of measles and rubella by 2014. Providing equitable access to vaccines is vital to preventing reintroduction in these countries and to protecting vulnerable groups, including refugees and migrants, in countries where the diseases are still endemic.