10th European Immunization Week – a platform for success in raising awareness about immunization

WHO

WHO expert Dr Mark Muscat speaking to the press following a conference on communication and immunization organized in conjunction with European Immunization Week, 17 April 2015

From its start in 2005, European Immunization Week (EIW) has served as a platform for all Member States in the European Region to mobilize support for immunization. Commitment and collaboration across all sectors and communities are critical to reach the Region's ambitious but achievable immunization goals, as set out most recently in the European Vaccine Action Plan 2015–2020. The event's 10th anniversary this year set a milestone as the most interactive and visible EIW so far.

Public engagement

With complacency and vaccine hesitancy growing, and threatening to undermine the success of immunization programmes in some countries, this year during EIW health authorities and partners made great efforts to reach the public with important messages about the importance of immunization. Outreach activities and materials included radio and television talk shows; radio announcements; flash mobs; text message campaigns; articles in newspapers, popular magazines and websites; press releases; dedicated websites; emails; web banners; videos; dissemination of vaccination booklets, calendars, pamphlets, flyers and posters in many languages; a CD with local immunization data and information; balloons, hats and t-shirts; school-based immunization awards; patient and doctor testimonials; establishment of an immunization information hotline; translation and dissemination of infographics into local languages; a charity concert; a theatre show with participation of leading artists, writers and poets; a sports tournament and a meeting with political and religious leaders to gain their full support for immunization.

Social media plays an ever-increasing role in engaging the public. Twitter chats were conducted in several countries and languages; and the hashtag #EIW2015 was used in over 1300 tweets. The EIW campaign site welcomed new members and was used as a platform for interesting debates and blogs from all over the world.

Media coverage

Press conferences were conducted in several countries leading to extensive media coverage. Interviews with national and international immunization experts, including staff of the WHO/Europe, covered a variety of topics such as vaccine hesitancy and vaccine-related myths, the status of measles outbreaks in specific countries and progress towards measles and rubella elimination in the European Region.

Voices for vaccines 

Among the over 30 blogs posted on the EIW campaign forum, prominent vaccine champions wrote about a wide range of topics including the significance of the Art of Saving a Life project, the role of health care workers and the difficulty of ensuring that they get vaccinated, the importance of surveillance data in closing immunization gaps, why London falls below WHO-recommended herd immunity levels for childhood immunization, questions surrounding mandatory vaccination, HPV vaccination for boys and lessons learnt from the measles outbreaks in Germany and the United States.

Health care workers

All countries recognize the key role played by health care workers in promoting and implementing immunization. As in the past, awareness raising and training activities focused on this important target group were organized at national level in many countries, including conferences on new vaccine introductions and effectiveness, training to increase skills and receive feedback, a population census conducted by health care workers to identify immunization gaps and capacity building on communicating with parents about immunization.

Additional activities

An international conference was held on the role of evidence in guiding immunization programmes, and another on strengthening the role of national immunization technical advisory groups. In several countries, EIW was used as the framework for offering free monitoring of immunization status and for providing supplementary immunization of undervaccinated children and adults.

Resource mobilization

All Member States share the same need to protect and/or increase political and economic support for immunization programmes. WHO/Europe has responded to this need by developing an Immunization advocacy library with a broad range of tools for programme managers and other stakeholders to advocate for prioritization of immunization in political agendas and public health budgets. A handbook for Mobilizing resources for immunization and an initial set of supplementary tools were launched during EIW.

Different contexts – common goals 

Contexts differ across the European Region, and needed approaches to reach universal coverage will therefore also vary. During EIW, WHO/Europe posted stories from several parts of the Region that together give a glimpse of the variety of steps being taken to identify and address immunization gaps. Together the stories illustrate commitment at local, regional and national levels to improve the current status of immunization in the Region.

Partners

WHO is supported in its promotion of European Immunization Week by several partners including UNICEF, PATH, the Measles and Rubella Initiative, Gates Foundation and many others. This year for the first time, Lions Clubs International also teamed up with WHO to help disseminate the important message that immunization must remain a political and personal priority in order to prevent disease and protect life.