Vaccination - Our shared responsibilityBefore the World Immunization Week, taking place from 24 to 30 April 2019
Ljubljana, 16 April 2019 - Before the World Immunization Week, taking place from 24 to 30 April 2019, experts in the fields of public health and pediatric medicine met the press to emphasize the fact that immunization is one of the greatest healthcare achievements in the history of mankind and has prevented more deaths in recent decades than any other health intervention. Although vaccines are safe and effective, opposition to vaccinations, has caused the return of infectious diseases that were considered practically eradicated for decades, even in the developed world. The recent case of the greatest outbreak of measles after 1991 and declaration of a medical emergency in New York shows the importance of knowing that immunization is an opportunity and responsibility of every individual, family and community that should not be neglected due to the need for collective protection from infectious diseases.
Immunizations that save over three million lives around the world each year and can prevent almost 30 diseases have enabled us to eradicate many severe infectious diseases, including smallpox, diphteria, polio and others. Associate Professor dr. Nataša Bratina, M.D., President of the Management Board of the Association of Pediatric Medicine with the Slovenian Association of Physicians stated: “Parents should know that immunization means individual protection from diseases that we hardly see nowadays, including tetanus, polio, etc., but only group immunization brings protection to those individuals that cannot be vaccinated due to immune deficiency, progressive neurological conditions, are receiving active treatment for cancer or on immunosuppresive therapy for other reasons. For those persons an infection could prove fatal even with the assistance of modern medicine.”
The immunization program in Slovenia provides vaccination against many infectious diseases for all children and youths, as well as adults and the elderly who could benefit from additional vaccination due to different health circumstances. Immunization protects health in all stages of life, so vaccinations against influenza, tick-borne encephalitis, pneumococcal infections, hepatitis A and hepatitis B and other diseases should become just as much part of the life long care for the health of the individual and society as regular dental and gynecological examinations and participation in national screening programs.Or, as explained by epidemiologist prim. dr. Alenka Trop Skaza, M.D. from the Celje regional unit of the National Institute of Public Health: “Immunization protects against infectious diseases. Infectious diseases do not discriminate by age, gender, race or religion. They have no borders. Their spread canbe stopped in the best possible way by immunization.We can imagine immunization as a large umbrella that keeps not just a single individual out of the rain, but anybody that fits under it.”
Fake news describing vaccinations as an unnecessary, even harmful measure create doubt about the efficiency and safety of vaccines in the general public. The consequence of such disinformation is resistance against vaccination, showing in a smaller share of vaccinated individuals, causing difficulties in introducing new vaccines and leading to re-emergence of infectious diseases. In spite of the goal of eradicating measles in the EU by 2020, the EU recorded 10,000 cases of infection and 31 deaths due to measles just in 2018 and we have seen separate cases of measles in Slovenia as well. According to retired pediatrician prim. Jasna Čuk Rupnik, M.D., the spreading of false and fear mongering information by dedicated anti vaccination activists is a very irresponsible act since the assurance of mandatory and recommendable vaccinations brings extensive personal and collective protection against numerous diseases that wreaked havoc among children in the past, causing debilitating injury and death. These infectious diseases are now disappearing precisely because of immunization, a very safe and successful intervention: “Some parents focus on studying the potential but extremely rare negative effects of vaccination. They worry about the ingredients of vaccines, their influence on the brain and immune system, fever, allergies and on and on. But they do not consider the severity of diseases that vaccines target. Some then remain paralyzed by fears that have no causal relationship with vaccination and exist only in their made up connections. They seek information on Internet forums that are flooded with false and scary content published by “dedicated anti vaccination activists”. This is very irresponsible.”
Immunization does not provide protection only against infectious diseases. Vaccinating against certain agents such as HPV prevent some forms of cancer. Vaccinating against bacterial infectious diseases also reduces the consumption of antibiotics and thus reduces bacterial resistance against them.
In economic terms immunization has been proven to reduce absenteeism and increase productivity, while remaining, as put by mag. Urša Lakner from the Forum of International Research and Development Pharmaceutical Companies, one of the most cost effective preventative measures in public healthcare: “more than 80 % of all vaccines are produced by leading innovative pharmaceutical companies in the European Union as the process of producing vaccines is inconceivably expensive, time consuming and precarious. That is why it is very important for uninterrupted supply of vaccines that healthcare authorities plan their purchases in advance. Generally vaccines are undervalued in many European countries, accounting for less than 0.5 % of healthcare budgets. The January 2018 information that Slovenia spends 2.99 Euros per inhabitant on vaccines can speak for itself.”
Trust is a key factor in assuring good operation of the healthcare system and preventative programs, including immunization. That is why Slovenian pediatricians are preparing a new web portal with truthful and science backed information on vaccinations to help readers adopt informed decisions.