European Immunization Week celebrates the everyday heroes who help protect us all from dangerous diseases
The widespread use of vaccines has drastically reduced the threat of once-common diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough and measles in the WHO European Region. Contributing to this success story are countless individuals – from scientists to parents, from nurses to bloggers – who each play a part in helping to immunize Europe.
On 24–30 April 2019, European Immunization Week (EIW) celebrates these vaccine heroes and raises awareness of the facts about vaccines and the serious diseases they prevent.
In launching EIW 2019 today, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) Director Dr Andrea Ammon issued a joint statement illustrating the need for individual commitment and international collaboration: “We cannot ignore the children and adults who are not yet protected. Contagious diseases do not respect national borders, and efforts to control them cannot stop there either.”
Towards a Region free of vaccine-preventable diseases
The vaccine success story in the European Region is still being written. The European Vaccine Action Plan envisions a Region free of the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases by 2020.
However, elimination of diseases such as measles and rubella requires sustained immunization coverage of at least 95% each year; while some countries have achieved this milestone, others are lagging behind or stalled in their progress.
Following a record low year for measles cases in 2016, this highly contagious disease has been making a comeback in Europe and globally. It caused over 83 000 infections and 74 deaths in the Region in 2018, and already over 34 000 infections in the first 2 months of 2019.
The measles virus is exceptionally contagious, and this alarming resurgence is a warning that the Region’s overall protection, or herd immunity, against vaccine-preventable diseases is not yet sufficient.
In celebrating vaccine heroes, EIW gives due credit to all those who support national efforts to reach every child with the vaccines they deserve and every parent with the fact-based information they need to make informed decisions.
The initiative also underlines that together we share not only the benefits of full immunization coverage, but also the responsibility to make it a reality, thereby helping to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3: good health and well-being for all.
As Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark notes today in her supporting statement for EIW: “Each one of us plays a role in preventing outbreaks. The benefits of vaccination are proven and backed by science, but they need to be effectively communicated and fully understood. Everyone who seeks evidence-based information about vaccines and passes it on to help inform others is also playing an important role.”
Using EIW to inspire and inform
Nearly all countries in the Region will participate in EIW with various awareness-raising and advocacy activities. Many will focus on the recent measles outbreaks, aiming to inform parents of the dangers of not vaccinating, or on influencing policy-makers to increase efforts to stop the outbreaks.
EIW and World Immunization Week, which take place simultaneously, offer a global WHO-led platform for action with the engagement of countless actors. These include Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; PATH; Rotary International; the United Nations Children’s Fund; patient and parent organizations; national authorities; public health and research institutes; and many more.