Earlier this year EU health ministers agreed to step up education and training for health professionals who regularly deal with the decision to vaccinate children.
Now the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has published a study looking at the role of doctors in the drive to increase uptake of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation.
In recent years, the vaccine has been plagued by false reports linking it with side effects such as autism – claims that have been repeatedly debunked by scientists but which have done serious damage to vaccination rates.
The European objective to eliminate measles by 2015 is already in jeopardy due to a series of major outbreaks over the past 18 months. More than 30,000 cases have been reported in Europe this year to date, leading to at least eight deaths and 22 cases of acute encephalitis in the first half of the year alone.
They note that other sources of vaccine information – including governments and vaccine manufacturers – are seen as less credible than family doctors, paediatricians and nurses.
The trouble is that a number of studies have revealed that knowledge of, and attitudes to, vaccination among health professionals is far from universally positive.
Many have received minimal information about the science and safety of vaccines during their training and some even hold anti-vaccination views, even though scientists have repeatedly given vaccines the all clear.
“Doctors’ knowledge and positive attitudes towards MMR vaccination are crucial to meet the elimination goal for measles. Therefore, it is important that information by healthcare providers to parents is balanced and based on evidence,” the ECDC paper says.
Despite worries about vaccine update, the authors note that the vast majority of parents in Europe choose to vaccinate their children. However, the prospect of reaching the elimination target remains remote if current rates do not improve.
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