European Immunization Week in review

WHO/Leo Weakland

Immunization at a health clinic in the Sredorek neighbourhood, Kumanova, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Looking back at the most successful Week so far, and forward to future plans

12 May 2010

The 2010 European Immunization Week (EIW) was the most successful since WHO/Europe launched the annual campaign in 2005; 47 countries organized a range of activities to raise awareness about immunization and maintain high vaccination coverage. The campaign focused on eliminating measles and rubella, contributing to achieving the goal, set more than a decade ago, to eradicate the diseases from the WHO European Region. Andorra, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway all took part for the first time in EIW.

Activities and events were varied and tailored to suit countries’ needs and key challenges. These challenges range from limited access to vaccines in some areas, to the risk of imported disease in others and to falling immunization coverage due to parents’ choosing not to vaccinate their children. Immunization outreach was a major focus, with an estimated 170 000 vaccinated against rubella in Kazakhstan, mobile immunization teams visiting Roma populations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, poliomyelitis vaccination in Uzbekistan and field immunization of Roma children and rural populations in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

WHO/Europe, partnered with the Danish Board of Health, worked with Copenhagen airport to set up an immunization information station for EIW, where travellers could learn more about the campaign and immunization in general.

Countries held training courses and workshops on vaccination for health care workers, parents and students, and some governments sent out press releases and held press conferences or media workshops to emphasize the importance of continued high vaccination coverage and accurate reporting on vaccines. The National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC) of Georgia organized a press conference, with the participation of Deputy Minister of Health Nikoloz Pruidze, Minister of Health Aleksandre Kvitashvili, First Lady Sandra Elizabeth Roelofs, NCDC Director Paata Imnadze, the Head of the WHO Country Office, Georgia, Dr Rusudan Klimiashvili, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Georgia, Roland Monash.

Some countries – such as first-time participants Finland, Iceland and Luxembourg – developed and distributed information materials in health care centres and online. Others – including Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Ukraine – organized well-attended lectures, meetings, round-table discussions, exhibitions and conferences on a range of immunization topics.

Many awareness-raising campaigns focused on children. For example, an event in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia paired folk songs with immunization awareness, and art activities in Turkmenistan taught schoolchildren about vaccines.

New technology to share experience

WHO harnessed new media technology for EIW 2010 to enable stakeholders to share their experience and best practices in immunization.

EIW began with a virtual launch, hosted by WHO/Europe with the World Bank. It featured a video message from Ms Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, and statements of support from Mr Steven Allen, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and Dr Karl Ekdahl, Acting Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Then followed a video conference, linking 10 countries to discuss practical ways of reaching non-immunized and partially immunized populations in the European Region. The participants called it a welcome opportunity to interact with WHO and its partners, as well as neighbouring countries.

A new EIW campaign web site took advantage of social networking technology and allowed WHO to provide real-time updates about immunization activities throughout the Region. It also enabled stakeholders to contribute their own experiences and materials in an easy, visible way, creating a sense of Region-wide momentum and action during EIW.

Next steps

Following up the success of EIW 2010, WHO/Europe is evaluating the initiative: looking at the effectiveness of planning and implementing activities, and measuring their impact. WHO/Europe plans to use the EIW campaign site to support the evaluation process and maintain interaction among stakeholders throughout 2010.

The evaluation will contribute to a five-year strategy for EIW, which will include closer collaboration with immunization initiatives in other WHO regions. The ultimate goal is to establish a global immunization initiative. In 2010, immunization campaigns took place in the WHO regions for the Americas and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Europe.

Plans for future European campaigns will consider the use of new and underused vaccines, as these are rolled out in more countries throughout the Region. Building on the success of the past five EIWs, WHO/Europe looks forward to further successes in 2011 and beyond.