Thousands of children in Greece are missing out vaccination – and education – because their parents have lost their health insurance, according to the humanitarian group, Doctors of the World.
Not only does this crisis put the unvaccinated children at increased risk of infectious disease, it also puts other children at risk.
If too few children are immunised, vaccine-preventable diseases have a greater chance of spreading within communities. The herd immunity which normally protects children who are too young or too sick to be vaccinated is in danger of breaking down.
Watch: What is Herd Immunity?
But the issue is even bigger than that. Viruses and bacteria know no borders and need no passports. If an outbreak occurs in Greece it could spread quickly to other European countries – and beyond.
Efforts to wipe out measles and rubella in every country in Europe will only succeed if these diseases are under control across the continent.
In an interview with a Greek radio station, Nikitas Kanakis, from Doctors of the World, said Greece is close to “tearing down the vaccination barrier”.
The problem stems from the economic crisis that has engulfed Greece since 2008. The state health insurer is in enormous debt, prompting some private clinics to refuse to treat patients who do not have private insurance.
However, people often lose their private health insurance if they lose their job, leaving whole families without access to care.
“Uninsured children who are unvaccinated are in imminent danger. Apart from the threat to their own health, they face exclusion from school because there are directives saying unvaccinated children cannot attend school [in Greece],” said Kanakis.
He said the situation was stoking inequality as uninsured families were left outside the health system.
Some 6,000 impoverished children, many of them migrants, have received vaccinations at voluntary clinics run by Doctors of the World. But there are still many more without access to basic preventative health services.
Earlier this year, MDM warned that Europe’s efforts to eliminate vaccine-preventable diseases are in jeopardy because people living on the margins of society are falling through cracks in the public health system – even when they are keen to be vaccinated.