This World Immunisation Week, 24-28 April 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) is highlighting the need to get vaccination programmes back on track to ensure more people are protected from vaccine preventable diseases. In this blog, Dr Claire Cameron, Consultant in Health Protection at Public Health Scotland, reflects on this year’s WIW theme ‘The Big Catch-Up'. She also emphasises the continued importance of vaccination to ensure more people in Scotland are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, allowing them to live happier and healthier lives.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations came together to deliver effective COVID-19 vaccines in record time. This impressive collaboration provided much-needed population protection and enabled us to move beyond the initial pandemic response. This year’s World Immunisation Week is about building on this work to ensure the highest possible protection against other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Big Catch-Up
Globally, the pandemic and lockdown measures to control the pandemic have disrupted routine childhood immunisation programmes, with dramatic falls in uptake rates in some areas. This year’s theme of ‘The Big Catch-Up’ stresses the need to act now to ensure the millions of children worldwide who missed out on vaccines during the pandemic do not lose out. The intention is to restore essential immunisation coverage to at least 2019 levels and strengthen global primary health care to deliver immunisation.
Some of these issues may not seem as applicable to Scotland, where we saw an increase in timely childhood immunisation uptake during the lockdowns. There is, however, evidence throughout the UK of ongoing gradual declines in childhood uptake over many years. While quarter-on-quarter, year-on-year, these may be small numbers, they can add up to thousands of children remaining unprotected against a range of vaccine-preventable diseases. This is particularly important, given that transmission of all infections is increasing now our social mixing has returned to more expected levels.
In addition, we have seen threats emerging in the UK of diseases once thought no longer relevant, such as polio. Immunisation is a global health success story, saving millions of lives every year and it is important children have all the vaccines offered to them as they protect against different types of diseases.
Immunisation and travel
If travelling, vaccines are available to protect people travelling abroad against diseases that:
- are either not found here in the UK (for example, rabies and yellow fever), or;
- have a higher incidence or risk of outbreaks than in the UK (for example, typhoid).
Not only can travel-related vaccines protect the individual traveller against becoming unwell whilst abroad, but vaccines can also reduce the risk of returning travellers bringing back potentially infectious diseases from abroad to the UK.
Immunisation throughout life
Immunisation is the best way of protecting against serious diseases such as measles and meningitis, and we can sometimes forget the serious impact of these infections in the past. We encourage everyone who is invited to take up the offer of vaccination. When each of us does, everyone in the community has a better chance of living long, healthy lives.
NHS Scotland offers immunisation through pregnancy, childhood, young adult and later life, to give everyone the best possible chance to pursue a long life, well lived.
Fitfortravel is a Public Health Scotland website that provides up to date health information for the public to help them consider how best to stay safe and healthy when travelling abroad against both vaccine-preventable disease and other travel health risks, including malaria risk. All travellers who think they may require travel vaccines and/or malaria advice should see a travel health professional ideally 6-8 weeks prior to travel. See Fitfortravel for information on how to access NHS travel health services in your local NHS Board.
More information on World Immunisation Week is available on WHO’s campaign page: World Immunization Week 2023 (who.int)