We sat down with Robb Butler and Dr Mark Muscat of WHO Regional Office for Europe to discuss the role of parents, doctors and even politicians in overcoming complacency that sets in when vaccine-preventable diseases have not been seen for several years.
“Outbreaks have a huge impact on public perceptions,” said Butler. “When you don’t see a disease circulating in your community you become complacent. Parents can’t be blamed for that. An outbreak emphasises the severity of the [vaccine preventable] diseases and the risks we run by not vaccinating our children.”
He said that despite improved rates of childhood immunisation in some European countries, there are still sub-groups of the population where immunisation rates are too low. In some Western European countries this is a particular problem with measles among the adolescent population who were not vaccinated when they were younger.
“What we’re seeing in Europe is rather high vaccination coverage. What we’re suffering from are the consequences of historical weaknesses and decisions made by parents many years ago,” said Butler.
However, he said it would be incorrect to say it all comes down to parents. Butler said healthcare workers and political decision-makers need to stand by their commitments to wipe out measles and rubella, making available the necessary resources to eliminate both diseases by 2015.
“We can’t afford to have complacent healthcare workers – they are our front line. If your healthcare worker is not vaccinating the likelihood that you will vaccinate your children is pretty minimal. Up to 70% of parents tell us the key trigger for their behaviour is their healthcare worker.”
Dr Muscat said healthcare workers should get stronger education on recognising vaccine-preventable diseases and communicating with parents about the value of vaccination.
“When it comes to healthcare workers it is our responsibility to educate them on the subject of vaccinology, on the benefits of vaccines and the risks of the diseases that we no longer see,” he said.