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Dr Ron Behrens gives us an overview during European Immunisation week

April 27, 2016

April 24th to 30th WHO aims to raise awareness of the importance of immunization for people's health and well-being.

Immunisation prevents 2-3 million deaths annually and coverage is improving (*1 in 5 children are not currently covered. Doing so could prevent a further 1.5 million deaths per year).

Significant breakthroughs have been achieved. Polio has been eliminated form one further country and now only two countries have the disease as an endemic. A major shift in the policy on polio has been made with the withdrawal from use of the oral polio vaccine, replacing it with the injectable form which is safer to use. This is a critical step in reaching a polio free world.

A number of new vaccines have been developed, the most notable being that against Ebola. A vaccine was created in less than 2 years and implemented in the final stages of the West African epidemic following novel research, trials and evaluations. With this vaccine now available, and with methods learnt in controlling Ebola, future outbreaks will be much less of a threat to global security.

A novel Dengue vaccine was licensed and has now being introduced into a number of middle income countries. The vaccine was created using a very novel design putting four Dengue antigens in a yellow fever virus which in field studies has provided reasonable protection against the four Dengue strains.

Another notable success was the licensing and introduction of the first malaria vaccine for children. This has arrived after decades of research and testing and is being rolled out for children who are at high risk of malaria.

In the UK the world the first Meningitis B vaccine has been introduced into the paediatric immunisation schedule to cover the one outstanding virulent strain of meningococcal disease, whilst in sub-Saharan Africa a conjugate meningitis A vaccine, has led to near elimination of the diseases in the meningitis belt.

Public anxiety and concern about vaccines and immunisations still affects uptake. Social engagement and education on the safety and benefit of immunisation measures remains high on the agenda of public health bodies such as WHO and national governments.

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