The role of vaccines in reducing health inequalities

Vaccination Fatsheet image

Vaccination is a highly cost effective health intervention, but not all children benefit from it. It seems that the most vulnerable children in our societies are the least likely to be fully vaccinated. The new EuroHealthNet factsheet on Childhood, health inequalities, and vaccine-preventable diseases explores the links between social and economic inequalities and childhood vaccination, and what can and is being done to improve vaccination rates in low socio-economic groups.

One in ten children in the European region remains vulnerable to potentially life-threatening diseases as they have not received a basic set of vaccinations usually delivered in infancy.  Although Europe is a world leader controlling vaccine preventable diseases, hesitancy is on the rise and there have been several outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases in Europe in 2016-2017. We cannot be complacent.

Wealth distribution, maternal education, place of residence, the gender of the child, and poverty are linked to levels of vaccination coverage. Inequalities in access to childhood immunisation persist. Studies of the health status of families in precarious situations, migrant and refugee children, and Roma children have suggested that a significant number of infants are missing out on the vaccinations they need.

Transparent and evidence-based information needs to be delivered in targeted and tailored ways, according to the specific needs of the audience. For example, in Sweden, communication materials are produced in minority languages, whilst in Greece separate campaigns target different socio-economic groups and groups of professionals.

It is important to invest in health service staff who can deliver vaccinations and information to families. They are a trusted information source for families, and with training and knowledge of how to support those who need it most, can be a powerful resource.

Successful programmes also include strong health promotion and education components. Investment is needed to increase health literacy amongst disadvantaged families. Removing financial, legal, and information barriers to accessing vaccinations for the most vulnerable families would also be a clear step forward.

More information about health inequalities and vaccine preventable diseases can be found in the new EuroHealthNet factsheet, and the summary of EuroHealthNet’s responses to public EC consultations on vaccine preventable diseases.