“Mostly children younger than 5 years of age, but also adults and elderly people with weaker immunity are in danger,” Darina Sedláková, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Office in Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator.
Children in Slovakia have to be vaccinated against 10 diseases. By August 2014 the vaccination rate of children born in 2012 did not exceed the required 95 percent for three diseases: against measles, mumps and rubella where it was only 94. 1 percent. The biggest drop was reported in Bratislava Region where it stood at only 88.4 percent. Lower rates were reported also by the Trenčín (92.8 percent), Košice (93.9 percent) and Banská Bystrica (94 percent) regions, the Public Health Authority (ÚVZ) data show.
All regions reported the increase in the number of parents who refuse to let their children be vaccinated. In most cases they disagree with the so-called MMR vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella, Sedláková said.
People underestimate vaccinations
There are several reasons for such state, including various anti-vaccination activities, said ÚVZ spokesperson Lenka Skalická. Many people think that if some kind of disease disappears thanks to vaccination, it is not necessary to be vaccinated against it.
“The drop in vaccination rate caused by the false feeling of safety and uselessness of vaccination may have serious impact on health condition of especially children,” Skalická told The Slovak Spectator, “with the increase in the number of children’s diseases and deaths on infectious illnesses which actually do not occur here.”
Another reason is the crisis of trust in authorities. This means that parents do not believe doctors, but rather the information spread on the internet as something “the official groups do not want to admit”, said Zuzana Krištúfková, head of the Slovak Epidemiological and Vaccinology Association. They should however consult the vaccination with the doctor, and not Google, she said.
“Parents want the best for their children, they think about what special they would do for them,” Krištúfková told The Slovak Spectator. “In such cases parents easily give way to conspiracy theories.”
One of the reasons is also the tendency to believe in alternative medicine, she added. In truth, the unvaccinated children are more prone to the infection and may spread it.
“Parents who refuse the mandatory vaccination endanger not only the health of their children but, if their child gets sick, also other children that cannot be vaccinated because of permanent contraindications or low age,” Skalická said.
Epidemics may return
Before the introduction of routine childhood vaccination, infectious diseases were the leading cause of childhood death globally. Every year, 10.6 million children die before the age of 5, with 1.4 million of these deaths are due to diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines, said Sedláková.
Taking into account both children and adults, vaccine-preventable diseases kill 3 million people around the world every year, according to the 2009 WHO estimates.
“Immunisation can also protect those not immunised by preventing the spread of certain infectious diseases: when enough people are immunised within a given community, diseases cannot spread,” Sedláková added.
For many years Slovakia kept its vaccination rate at 98 or more percent. This is also a result of the immunisation programme the country claims is one of the best in Europe and also across the globe, Krištúfková said.
The situation in other countries varies. In countries with mandatory vaccination for selected diseases the vaccination level is good, while in countries where it is voluntary there are epidemics of infectious diseases. The latter group includes Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and France, Skalická said.
While in Germany there are regular epidemics, like the most recent epidemic of measles, the last domestic epidemics of measles in Slovakia occurred in 1998, added Krištúfková.
The information about positive impacts of vaccination is spread via various channels, including the internet, leaflets and media. There are also activities within the European Immunisation Week, or also regional health authorities willing to discuss with parents the vaccination, said Skalická. Also various education events or congresses are organised, added Krištúfková.
The experience however shows that the most effective way to show people there is a problem is when the low vaccination rate results in serious epidemics, whose result may even be death, Krištúfková said.
“I hope that the common sense will win in Slovakia and we will avoid harming the health in bigger extent, and that we will prevent needless diseases and deaths,” she added. She would also welcome legislative changes, like banning non-vaccinated children from attending kindergartens.
7. May 2015 at 15:56 | Radka Minarechová