Why bother vaccinating against diseases which are no longer seen in Europe?

Editorial Board

Editorial Board

November 27th, 2021

Editorial Board

There are currently vaccinations against more than 25 infectious conditions and the number is growing. Here are some of the diseases against which people in Europe are most commonly immunised.

Vaccines, however, as it is often said, are victims of their own success. By protecting people against diseases such as polio and diphtheria, they have helped make them very rare in Europe. Most people born in the past two decades will not lose a classmate to preventable diseases, thanks to immunisation programmes.

The fact that these diseases have become so rare has led to a decline in the perceived risk they pose. The danger is that this can breed complacency which ultimately leads to falling vaccination rates and renewed increased risk of disease.

Viruses do not hesitate to capitalise when our defences are down. This was cruelly illustrated by poliomyelitis outbreaks in 1978 and 1992 in areas of the Netherlands where immunisation was refused on religious grounds, leading to scores of deaths.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, several ex-Soviet states saw a decline in vaccination rates followed by devastating outbreaks of diphtheria. More than 150,000 people fell ill and more than 6,000 people died during the 1990s in Russia and other former member states of the USSR.

Similarly, declining MMR vaccine coverage is being blamed for the recent increase in measles, and weak immunisation systems are thought to be responsible for the 2010 polio outbreak in Kazakhstan.

For more information, see ‘Vaccination – 20 Objections & Responses’, produced by the Robert Koch Institute and Paul Ehrlich Institute