We are well aware of the benefits of vaccinating children, but in the last few decades there has been a shift in the burden of diseases that traditionally were those of childhood, towards older age groups, as explained in the ECDC presentation on “Finding the balance in life-course vaccination”. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to reach 2 billion, an increase from circa 900 million individuals today. With the ageing population, the public health impact of vaccine-preventable diseases and their complications in adults are likely to grow.
It is thus important to celebrate this years’ European Immunisation Week 2017 (EIW2017), which takes place from 24–30 April, by focusing on the need for and benefits of immunisation at every stage in life. This week offers us the opportunity to showcase the value of immunisation as a critical public health intervention and the benefits that immunisation brings in terms of health and economic returns.
This value is often underestimated, as confirmed by the Vaccine Confidence Project, which shows the European region as having the highest degree of vaccine hesitancy. This has led to a decline in Vaccine Coverage Rates (VCR), resulting in outbreaks of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, and related hospitalisations and deaths. Just days after a teenager died of measles in Portugal, the ECDC reported that 10 European countries have witnessed the number of measles cases in their territory double in the first part of 2017, compared with last year. This warns us about the urgent need to act.
Policies and programmes need to evolve to meet the medical needs and challenges arising from changing infectious disease patterns in infants, children, adolescents, adults and older adults. In addition, stakeholders should be engaged in enhancing fact-based communication and in increasing awareness about vaccines and vaccination. In this respect, healthcare workers have an active role to play in addressing vaccination hesitancy by communicating the benefits of vaccination.
With this in mind, I would like to urge that more activities be organised at EU and national level during European Immunisation Week. I join with Commissioner Andriukaitis and WHO Regional Director for Europe, Zsuzsanna Jakab, in issuing an invitation to spread the word that #VaccinesWork for us all.0