Estonian Health Board: Decline in vaccination becoming dangerous

  • 2019-02-11
  • BNS/TBT Staff

TALLINN - The level of coverage by vaccination in Estonia is already below the level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the continuation of a downward trend may soon become dangerous, the Health Board said.

Should the number of vaccinations continue a downward trend, many serious infectious diseases that can be prevented by vaccines will once again threaten the residents of Estonia. With open borders and travel conditions, there is also the risk of introducing infectious diseases across borders, the Health Board added.

At a discussion evening held in Haapsalu, healthcare experts said that it is important to be vaccinated and take care of one's health as this is many times cheaper and simpler than suffering through a disease -- whether it be influenza, measles or a more exotic disease brought back from travels abroad.

Irina Dontsenko, adviser at the infectious disease monitoring and epidemic control department of the Health Board, said that the most serious problem during the current season is a wave of influenza, but at the same time, it is also necessary to be prepared for the regional outbreaks of some forgotten diseases. "For example, there was an outbreak of measles in Saaremaa last year, which infected eight people. Unfortunately, most of them had not been vaccinated," Dontsenko said.

"On the basis of a national immunization plan, we are vaccinating children against numerous diseases, a vaccine against the rotavirus and a human papillomavirus vaccine for girls have been added in recent years," Kart Sober, adviser at the public health department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said.

According to Sober, vaccination has born results and morbidity has also gone down over the years. "The average coverage of two-year-old children with vaccination is 93 percent, which is slightly below WHO's suggested rate of 95 percent, but this is not too bad for now. At the same time, should the current slight downward trend in vaccination continue, viruses will of course also start spreading more intensely," Sober said.

Infectious diseases are also spreading more and more rapidly with open borders as well as with people's growing desire to travel. Piret Viiklepp, head of the department of registries at the National Institute for Health Development, said that an European Union cooperation platform helps to prevent, monitor and control epidemics and outbreaks. "For example, during air travel, you could potentially share air circulation with an infected person, who might not even be aware of it at that moment. Through the early warning system of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, countries can exchange information with one another and it will be possible to determine after the flight that all people, who sat around the sick person, are aware of the threat of infection and go to a health check," Viiklepp said.

Speaking about cooperation across the European Union, head doctor and head of the SA Laanemaa foundation Tonis Siir emphasized how important it is for doctors of county hospitals to be able to gain experience and further training in the hospitals of other countries. "Of course, we cannot ignore 'the concrete' when talking about the European Union and healthcare. With support of the funding of first structural funds, nursing and care departments, that is, as people say, homes for the aged, were established in counties. Therefore, thanks to EU support, we were able to renovate the old De La Gardie manor house and establish a top quality nursing home there," Siir added.

With the support of the structural funds of the next period, the aim is to establish a health center in order to bring the family doctors and hospital of Haapsalu once again under one roof.

Viiklepp said that tuberculosis and HIV, for example, are no longer stigmatized illnesses that are limited to one social group. "Every person with a weakened immune system, who has not rested or eaten enough, may catch tuberculosis. For example, two models, who simply had not eaten enough, caught tuberculosis recently," Viiklepp said.

She added that the case is the same with HIV, which is no longer only the problem of drug addicts. "Through prostitution, HIV has spread further among the general population and, at that, older people have namely ended up in the risk group through casual relationships, as school children are already acknowledging the threat of infectious diseases and know to avoid it," Viiklepp said.

According to specialists, vaccination is in any case many times cheaper than suffering through the illnesses. One influenza vaccine costs 9-15 euros, but suffering through the disease costs many times more, while falling ill during a holiday may also turn out to be extremely costly.