Key message 1: Vaccines are powerful tools for protecting our health
Immunisations have lead to the control and elimination of diseases in Europe that in the past caused death and disability for millions of people. The global eradication of smallpox and the elimination of poliomyelitis from most regions of the world are excellent examples of successful vaccination programmes.
The effective control in Europe of diphtheria and tetanus and the remarkable reduction of Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) infections in young children mark other important achievements. In addition, the number of new hepatitis B infections has fallen significantly in Europe following the introduction of universal vaccination of children against the hepatitis B virus.
European national immunisation programmes for children include vaccines against 9 to 11 diseases, depending on national priorities. Most vaccines provide lifelong protection for the immunised person but unimmunised people also benefit. Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), which is given to young infants, also indirectly protects unimmunised elderly people from pneumococcal pneumonia by reducing the risk of getting exposed to an infected child.
Over the last few years, several new vaccines were licensed for use in the European Union, including vaccines against human papilloma virus (HPV), herpes zoster virus, and rotavirus. Two new conjugated pneumococcal vaccines and a new meningococcal vaccine were approved in 2009 and 2010. The new pneumococcal vaccines cover ten and 13 serotypes, respectively, and offer extended protection against one of the leading causes of invasive bacterial infections among children and adults. A new 4-valent meningococcal vaccine improves protection against bacterial meningitis.
More new vaccines and vaccine combinations are under development: a new nasal preparation of a trivalent attenuated live influenza vaccine will simplify vaccination logistics, and an intradermal inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine could reduce vaccination costs.