There are currently 10,000 children up to 14 years of age in Estonia that are unvaccinated against measles due to parental objections. Nonetheless, refusals to vaccinate are showing signs of being on the decline, a specialist from the Health Board said.
"There are quite a lot of children in Estonia who are unvaccinated specifically because their parents refused to have them vaccinated," Irina Filippova, a chief specialist at the Health Board's Infectious Disease Prevention and Epidemic Control Department, said on Vikerraadio's morning radio program Vikerhommik. "There are a total of approximately 10,000 such children in Estonia."
Thankfully, she continued, these unvaccinated children don't all live in one area, but rather spread out across the country.
"But still — that's 10,000 children, plus those children who cannot yet be vaccinated, as in those under one year of age, pregnant people and people with immunodeficiencies," she stressed.
According to Filippova, children in Estonia are vaccinated according to the immunization schedule with two doses of the vaccine, at ages 1 and 13. Children under one year of age are not vaccinated.
"Thus, by vaccinating our children, we are protecting those who we cannot vaccinate," she added.
The specialist noted that refusals to vaccinate in Estonia range from 2-6 percent depending on the vaccine, indicating that coverage stands at 94-98 percent. Compared to other countries, the situation is positive overall.
"Considering that a total of 124,000 cases of measles and at least 75 deaths were reported in Europe last year, then Estonia's situation, in which 27 cases of measles were reported last year, is even good in comparison with other countries."
Ukraine remains Europe's biggest source of concern in this regard, with very low vaccine coverage, especially from 2010-2016, when vaccine coverage among children was 31-59 percent, Filippova noted. A total of 115,000 cases of measles have been diagnosed, and 40 measles-related deaths reported.
"A very strong anti-vaccine movement exists there, and parents are refusing en masse to vaccinate their children," she said. "I think the Ukrainian lesson is a very important one for anti-vaxxers in Estonia."
Vaccinated during Soviet era? Get a booster
Vaccination against measles began in Estonia in 1964. Initially, children were vaccinated with one dose of the vaccine, but since 1980, children have been vaccinated with two doses.
According to the specialist, measles cases can range from light to severe, however two thirds of cases ultimately require hospitalization, indicating severe cases of the disease. Side-effects of meningitis can include ear infections, pneumonia and encephalitis, and in severe cases may lead to death.
"A vaccine produced in the Soviet Union was used at the time, the quality of which was not always stable," Filippova said. "That is why the Health Board recommends those who were vaccinated against measles during the Soviet period get vaccinated with at least one modern dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, in order to boost their immune systems. Those vaccinated with two doses of the MMR vaccine already are protected, as two such doses provide effective and long-term protection. Those who have had measles are immune for the rest of their lives."
Editor: Aili Vahtla