European Immunization Week: 46 countries in Europe recommit to eliminating measles

Copenhagen, 21 April 2010

The WHO European Region has seen a dramatic reduction in reported measles cases, from 200 000 in 1994, to 30 000 in 2003 and 7 375 in 2009. Nevertheless, there have been significant setbacks in recent years.

Nearly 1 million children born each year in the European Region are not fully immunized, and since 2000, some countries with traditionally high measles vaccination coverage have reported decreased coverage rates: below the 95% threshold recommended by WHO. Some of the lowest rates are found in western Europe, where 76% of measles cases in the Region were reported over the past two years.

“While there is no doubt that we have much to celebrate in terms of the success of immunization, it is imperative to remain vigilant and to maintain recommended levels of immunization coverage,” says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “Unvaccinated vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups exist in all countries, and finding ways to reach them is essential. The consequences of failing to do so cannot be overstated.”

European Immunization Week 2010

From 24 April to 1 May 2010, 46 countries in the WHO European Region will take part in the fifth European Immunization Week (EIW). Established by the WHO Regional Office for Europe in 2005, EIW is an annual campaign of national initiatives to boost vaccine awareness and increase immunization coverage.

This year, the campaign will focus on eliminating measles and rubella. It will target decision-makers, health professionals and parents with a range of activities, including workshops and training, round-table discussions and symposiums, and public information drives. Regular updates will be available on a dedicated campaign site: an interactive network where EIW stakeholders and other interested parties can view and share information.

EIW will be launched with a videoconference entitled “European Immunization Week 2010: reaching vulnerable populations to meet the regional measles and rubella elimination goal”. The event, which will also be available via webcast, will feature the WHO Regional Director for Europe, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, and the Director-elect of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The video event will also include the lessons learned by countries about reaching susceptible populations and responding to recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease.

Eliminating measles in Europe

In 1998, the Member States in the WHO European Region set the goal of eliminating measles and rubella by 2010. Since this goal was adopted, measles incidence in the Region declined from 110 cases per million population to a historically low level of less than 10 cases per million in 2007–2008. In 2008, 29 Member States had measles incidence of less than 1 case per million population. Unfortunately, the elimination goal is not likely to be met this year.

The momentum towards this important – and achievable – goal has stalled in recent years. Measles immunization coverage has fallen below the recommended 95% in many western European countries, and the Region has experienced a resurgence of the disease, with ongoing outbreaks in western European countries. To achieve elimination, political and societal commitment is essential to increase and sustain high immunization coverage for children across the Region.

With questions about immunization, please contact:

Dr Rebecca Martin
Medical Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39171216

For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Mr Robb Butler
Technical Officer
WHO Regional Office for Europe
Tel.: +45 39171552