This article is part of our special report Vaccination: Raising awareness against fake news.
Parents have a particular responsibility to protect their children, as they are more vulnerable to infections, but vaccination should be seen as a lifelong approach that applies to adults too, centre-right MEP Renate Sommer told EURACTIV.com.
“Children are the most vulnerable group and have an increased risk for infections because their immune systems are not yet strong enough. Those who refuse important vaccinations for their child are not just risking the lives of their own child; they are also risking the lives of others,” the European People’s Party politician emphasised.
Adult vaccination has been given less emphasis than other health priorities. But with an aging population, the burden of vaccine-preventable diseases and their complications in adults and elderly are likely to grow.
Vaccinating these groups would allow them to stay healthy and active for longer, with fewer and shorter hospital stays, less time off work, less dependency, and a lower burden of chronic illness. In addition, increased adult vaccination coverage rates could contribute to the fight against antimicrobial resistance.
Sommer argues that an adult should get tetanus shot every ten years, for example, and that certain childhood vaccines wear off over time so an additional dose of certain vaccines is necessary to remain protected.
“Some vaccines are actually only recommended for adults, who are more at risk for certain diseases like e.g. shingles. Others have an increased risk for diseases because of travel, their job, or individual health conditions. Therefore, it is important to check the personal vaccination record once every now and then to see whether the vaccination status is up to date,” she said.
In 2014, the Council conclusions on vaccinations as an effective tool in public health invited member states to “actively offer appropriate vaccination to population groups considered to be at risk in terms of specific diseases and to consider immunization beyond infancy and early childhood by creating vaccination programmes with the life-long approach”.
Europe is currently faced with measles outbreaks in a number of countries due to vaccine hesitancy, lack of information and the intense lobbying of anti-vaccination movements across the bloc.
According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), measles outbreaks are still occurring in 2018 while four countries have also reported fatalities.
“There is a risk of spread and a sustained transmission in areas with susceptible populations,” ECDC said in a statement last week.
Most cases were reported by Romania (5,224), Italy (4,978), Greece (1,398) and Germany (906), accounting for 35%, 34%, 9% and 6%, respectively, of all cases reported by EU/EEA countries.
The European Commission and 20 European countries are currently finalising proposals for a joint action plan aimed at strengthening cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases.
A Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that the proposals, which will probably take the form of a Council recommendation, are due to be presented at the end of April.
Vaccination policy is a national competence and the proposal will aim to boost member states’ coordination and cooperation with industry and other stakeholders at EU level, in order to reinforce and consolidate vaccination programmes all over Europe, increase vaccination coverage and enhance preparedness at the EU level.
Online fake news bombardment
Commenting on vaccine hesitancy, French Socialist MEP Gilles Pargneaux told EURACTIV.com that it has become a worrying phenomenon.
“Untrustworthy online sources are bombarding our citizens with unreliable, misleading and unscientific information, triggering delays or complete refusal in taking necessary vaccines,” he said.
Along the same lines, Sommer explained that there was simply no scientifically-based justification to forego vaccination or even to consciously refuse it.
“We have to explain this to the people. We need to remind our citizens of how important vaccinations are and of how serious are the consequences of failing to get vaccinated. Just because infections like polio and diphtheria no longer occur in the EU does not mean they have been eradicated around the world. The absence of these serious diseases in the EU is rather the result of a comprehensive vaccination programme lasting decades,” she noted.
Sommer also pointed to the high speed at which targeted misinformation spreads today as a reason for the drop in vaccination rates.
“The worst success of these people is when parents become uncertain as a result of the misinformation and do not have their children vaccinated in order to protect them from the allegedly bad side effects.”
“I feel that this is grievous bodily harm, as these children are rendered entirely defenseless against the most serious infections which can leave them disabled for the rest of their lives or even lead to death,” Sommer warned.