Vaccines have contributed to dramatic health improvements in the WHO European Region, particularly among children, says Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe, who said recent outbreaks of preventable diseases serve as a warning against complacency.
Speaking at a childhood immunization conference in Hungary, she said a 99% reduction in polio cases and a 78% decline in measles mortality have been recorded globally between 2000 and 2008.
However, while the European region could be on the verge of eliminating measles and rubella and vaccines promise to curb the deadly impact of influenza, meningitis and cancer, severe challenges lie ahead.
High levels of population movement, limited access to health care services and the continuing decline in vaccine acceptance among populations have contributed to recent measles outbreaks and the reemergence of polio last year.
Ms Jakab said that on immunization issues, Europe “stands at a crossroads”. Despite the challenges, she expressed confidence that Europe can remain polio free and eliminate measles and rubella, as well as reducing mortality from other vaccine-preventable diseases.
This, she added, will be achieved by continuing collaboration and innovation, joint planning and the implementation of effective preventive measures. Ms Jakab said European Immunization Week, which takes place from 23-30 April, will help highlight the benefits of vaccination.
Meanwhile, Marc Sprenger, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), told the conference that communicating with health professionals is essential to boosting immunization rates, and he advocated better use of social media to influence public opinion.