(Vienna 18th April 2013) "There are always vaccination gaps, above all in children and young people, but also in adults. This favours the return of infectious diseases such as measles or whooping cough for example," says Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt, Director of the Institute of Specific Prophylaxis and Tropical Medicine at the MedUni Vienna and chairperson of the Austrian Vaccination Board, on the occasion of the forthcoming Immunization Week. In general, she advises that you check your own vaccination pass regularly and get yourself vaccinated or get the boosters.
In 2009 there were as many as 30,000 measles cases in Europe, in 2011 there were just under 36,000. Even if the numbers of cases have dropped somewhat this year, at more than 8,000 reported cases this is still clearly too many, thus comments this expert in vaccinology: "In Austria there were 120 cases in 2011, in 2012 fortunately only 30 cases." And yet it was the aim of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the world to be measles-free in the year 2010. This goal has been well and truly missed, above all in Europe. Now 2015 is the target.
The reason for the comeback of Measles & Co., but above all of whooping cough (pertussis) for some years now: vaccination gaps growing bigger and bigger due to lack of vaccination discipline, also triggered by the high effectiveness of the vaccinations: "Measles and whooping cough are no longer part of the public consciousness as everyone has been protected for such a long time. Many parents believe that these diseases do not exist anymore and do not have their children vaccinated." In the case of pertussis many do not know that this is not a childhood ailment but can occur at any age. With 3,455 cases in Austria in 2011 this was a rise of well over 300 percent over the average numbers of cases in the years 2000 to 2010, and not only small children but also adults were afflicted.
Says Wiedermann-Schmidt: "If the number of those unprotected goes on increasing then these diseases will enjoy a comeback. Where measles is concerned there is a whole generation which has not had the protective second part of the vaccination."
In the Austrian vaccination plan two measles vaccinations are envisaged in the second year of life (from the 11th month of life, the second vaccination at the earliest four weeks after the first), ten years ago the first part of the vaccination was envisaged in the 2nd year of life, the second in school age. "This was then very often forgotten," says the vaccination expert. Where a vaccination has not been done, a catch-up vaccination is to be recommended at any age.
"Every case is one too many as there is an effective vaccine against it. Measles like whooping cough is a disease we can easily prevent." With the combined vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella the protection achieved with it (in two vaccinations) is very high and lies at over 90 percent.
An even larger vaccination gap is now opening up with influenza, only approximately seven percent of the population are protected against it. Says Wiedermann-Schmidt: "Everyone should get vaccinated as the unprotected person is a potential disease source and carrier. This applies to every kind of pathogen transmissible from person to person." Vaccination is nothing unnatural or dangerous, she emphasizes, quite the opposite. "With vaccination, and disregarding the ageing process, we successfully manage to keep our immune system in working order and thus strengthen the defence mechanisms and limit the spread of pathogens."
Higher risk for children, young people, the chronically ill – and immigrants A group that also has a poor rate of completing courses of vaccination in Austria is that of people with a history of migration, and here it is often the women who are affected, emphasizes Wiedermann-Schmidt. A survey has established that, for example, around 70 percent of Austrians are vaccinated against tetanus, but only 40 percent of immigrants. With hepatitis B the ratio is 30 to 15 percent. One has to assume that this ratio applies to other vaccinations as well. A current study is now to help define precisely the risk groups in the population and launch vaccination programmes. Wiedermann-Schmidt is already clear about what is happening: "There is a rising number of endangered persons. Leaving aside children and young people, these are above all the chronically ill and those whose immunity has been compromised, but also persons with a history of migration and the socially disadvantaged." A symposium is also taking place on the subject of "Migration – epidemiological, sociocultural and medical aspects" led by Wiedermann-Schmidt and Maria Kletchka-Pulker on Thursday, 25th April (9 – 18 hrs, Vienna Medical Association, Weihburggasse 10-12, 1010 Vienna), which will deal with this subject area as well as others in detail. Vaccination action days at the MedUni ViennaThe MedUni Vienna is also taking responsibility with regard to its staff and, within the framework of Immunization Week, is running vaccination action days on 22 and 23 April as well as on 6 and 7 May 2013 for the combined vaccinations for measles/mumps/rubella as well as diphtheria/tetanus/whooping cough. Motto: "Boost yourself!"