Following three years of tackling COVID-19, which placed an unprecedented burden on health systems and people worldwide, we are transitioning into a new normal, and working to create more resilient health systems and stronger outbreak preparedness. We have seen the power of collaboration and solidarity. These fundamental principles helped ensure that countries and people worldwide could have access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines. The same holds true for all other essential vaccines.
As we mark European Immunization Week, WHO, UNICEF and the European Commission alongside other regional and local partners are committed to continue protecting our societies, especially the most vulnerable, from the most serious effects of COVID-19 through vaccination.
Together we also continue our support to ensure children and families have timely access to important routine vaccinations and catch up on any missed doses. This is essential to prevent the return of highly contagious vaccine-preventable diseases.
COVID-19 placed a significant strain on health systems and exposed existing shortages within the health workforce. Lockdowns and the fear of contracting COVID-19 while visiting health-care facilities led some families to put off vaccinating their children. Across 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia – together making up the European Region of WHO - over 1 million children missed all or some routine vaccinations since the start of the pandemic in 2020. While many of the countries in the Region quickly recovered with great effort from disruptions and delays to routine vaccinations, 16 countries saw a decline in coverage for the third dose of diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTP3) vaccine in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic rates. Half of the Region's 20 middle-income countries reported coverage below 90% for one or more vaccines in 2021, compared to less than 10% of high-income countries. The immunization equity gap among countries and their populations is widening.
War in Ukraine and earthquakes in Türkiye have caused further disruptions to health services, displaced millions of families, and made access to life-saving vaccines much harder.
Vaccination is a cornerstone of public health. Every dose in a country's national immunization schedule is timed to build or sustain protection from one or more diseases. Every missed or delayed dose puts someone at greater risk of infection. This can be particularly dangerous for young children and the most vulnerable in our communities. The more children who fall behind in their vaccination schedule, the greater the risk of large outbreaks of measles, polio, diphtheria, and other dangerous infectious diseases. Cases of measles in the European Region increased from 159 in 2021 to more than 900 in 2022. Cases of diphtheria increased from 41 in 2021 to 300 in 2022. It is in our common interest to protect each other from disease; critical to this is reaching out to people to encourage them to come forward for vaccination, keeping up with national vaccine schedules, and catching up on vaccinations that have been missed.
As we continue to support countries to build resilient public health systems and infrastructures, let us remember that we have a strong foundation of public health accomplishments to preserve and build upon. Working together to bring the world closer to eradicating polio and eliminating measles, rubella, cervical and other cancers from the Region through vaccination, we will ensure better health for all and contribute to our joint commitment to regional and global health security.
- Publication date
- 24 April 2023
- Representation in Cyprus