WHO: “Be vaccinated against influenza and protect yourself against serious illness”

Copenhagen, 16 November 2011

As the influenza season is set to begin, WHO reminds Member States and their citizens that vaccination is the best tool available to prevent serious illness and death.

Each year, seasonal influenza affects 5–15% of the population in the northern hemisphere. While most infected people do not need medical treatment, each year an estimated 3–5 million people worldwide develop severe disease, resulting in hospitalization or even death. The hardest-hit groups for severe disease are people who are elderly and/or have chronic diseases.

To prevent illness and death, WHO recommends that high-risk groups be vaccinated before the influenza season begins.

“Many people underestimate the severe disease that influenza can cause, but the good news is that we have a safe, effective vaccine that greatly reduces, if not eliminates, the risk of illness,” says Dr Guenael Rodier, Director of the Division of Communicable Diseases, Health Security and the Environment at WHO/Europe. “We highly recommend vaccination for all people in risk groups, that is: individuals more than 6 months old with chronic diseases (such as heart or lung diseases, metabolic or renal disease, chronic liver disease, chronic neurological conditions or immunodeficiencies), elderly people and pregnant women.”

Many countries in the WHO European Region have programmes for routine vaccination against seasonal influenza. According to WHO, those that do not have such programmes should seriously consider instituting them.

“We have seen the benefits of routine immunization programmes. Those at highest risk are protected and everyone benefits,” says Dr Rodier. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

The influenza vaccine has been used successfully and safely in routine immunization programmes for over 60 years. Some countries in the European Region go beyond offering it to targeted risk groups and make it available to other groups, such as all children above the age of 6 months.

For more information, contact:

Gregory Härtl
Acting Communications Manager
Tel.: +45 39 17 12 31, +41 79 203 6715 (mobile)
Email: hartlg@who.int