On the occasion of European Immunization Week 2021, Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Hans Henri P. Kluge, Regional Director, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, and Afshan Khan, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), made the following joint statement:
“This past, difficult year of the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear how vulnerable we all are to a deadly new disease, when we don't have the right vaccines or medical technologies we normally use to fight back.
Long before COVID-19, one crucial tool - simply called 'routine immunization' - was already saving millions of lives and preventing debilitating sickness, particularly among children. Routine immunization protects not only the person vaccinated, but also others in their communities. It helps pave the way to universal health coverage and Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals - ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccination at an ever increasing speed across the WHO European Region just a year after the start of the pandemic, is an impressive achievement. The European Union, WHO, UNICEF, all national governments and other partners have worked side by side in this response. Thanks to the global COVAX allocation mechanism and Team Europe's efforts, some countries in the region that could not have competed on the global vaccine market on their own are seeing vaccines being rolled-out. The European Union, WHO and UNICEF are now working with private and public sectors to overcome supply and capacity challenges and enable faster delivery.
The uneven roll out of COVID-19 vaccination to date highlights another truth: Inequitable access to health technologies between and within countries hurts us all. The virus and its impact on interlinked economies and societies know no borders. No country is safe until all countries are safe.
While COVID-19 vaccination must continue at a faster and more equitable pace, it must not come at the cost of neglecting routine immunization. Any dip in routine coverage caused by the pandemic in 2020 or 2021 will pave the way for future outbreaks and jeopardize decades of progress.
In 2019, the European Region continued its record-breaking trend in routine vaccination coverage rates against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases. While 2020, saw an exceptionally low rate of reported measles cases, the pandemic has challenged national immunization programmes to keep up and catch up on routine shots. We must keep measles and other preventable diseases at bay by maintaining high routine vaccination coverage rates in every community, even during the pandemic.
This year, more than ever, we call on everyone to do their part by choosing health information sources carefully, getting all routine vaccinations in due time and accepting COVID-19 vaccination for yourself and your loved ones when your turn comes. Talk to your children and others about vaccination, so they also come to see that it is not just an injection, but an investment in a healthier future and a safer world.”