The Ministry of Social Affairs is not in favor of adopting enforcement measures for increasing vaccine coverage among children in Estonia. It would, however, consider increasing family doctors' motivation to address the issue by means of Health Insurance Fund funding.
While the number of parents refusing to have their children vaccinated in relative to the total number vaccinations is not high — falling in the 3-3.9 percent range last year — the steadily increasing number of children being left unprotected is worrisome to health officials, reported ERR's radio news.
According to Minister of Health and Labour Jevgeni Ossinovski, the Estonian Health Insurance Fund has means of encouraging family doctors, for example, to keep a better eye on the vaccination of their patients.
"Family doctors in principle receive bonuses for various procedures or initiatives they should be undertaking in order to ensure quality," explained the minister. "This is the so-called quality financing paid to family doctors where we monitor how well they have followed up with chronic patients and so on, so introducing the vaccination issue is certainly a relevant matter to discuss."
Ossinovski was not in favor of employing coercion measures, however, such as denying unvaccinated children places in kindergarten or making vaccination mandatory.
"We have considered other countries' experiences and generally speaking, all sorts of coercion measures may in fact have the opposite effect," claimed the minister. "As children's health concerns are a sensitive matter, then for the state to sanction by force isn't right; this certainly wouldn't produce results. But we must certainly continue to make efforts on the awareness front."
Policy research center Praxis recently conducted a study which indicated that there are considerable regional differences in measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) coverage, for example.
According to Ülla-Karin Nurm, health program manager at Praxis, the lowest indicators were recorded in Tallinn, Harju County and Valga County, while the largest drops were recorded in Valga, Lääne and Järva Counties. She noted that such regional differences illustrate the importance of healthcare workers' activity and attitudes when it comes to vaccination.
According the Ministry of Social Affairs' information, they have directed healthcare workers specifically to work on raising awareness as studies have shown that patients consider doctors to be the most trustworthy source on information on vaccination.
Editor: Aili Vahtla