Increasing problem with vaccine hesitancy among Polish parents
Based on administrative data, routinely collected during 2007-2016, Poland experiences a gradual increase of vaccine refusals. This is affecting the immunization coverage and creates the risk of communicable disease epidemic spread. The number of permanent refusals (persons refusing any immunization of their children and subject to administrative procedures) increased from 4,893 in 2007 to 23,147 in 2016 (Figure below).
Vaccinations included in the immunization schedule are mandatory and provided at no cost to all children residing in Poland, including visitors, immigrants, and children without medical insurance. Usually when parents have doubts about administering vaccines to their children, they are approached by their primary care physician, and subsequently by representatives of public health services. Registration as permanent refusal usually takes a long time, following many attempts of negotiations. Therefore, the above figure does not reflect all parents reluctant to vaccinations since many parents are systematically delaying their vaccination visits, avoiding reminders.
Despite 23 thousand children does not look much as compared to over 300,000 children born in Poland, there is a very strong tendency, especially during the past 5 years. We also denote an impact of vaccine refusals on the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine uptake. During the previous decade, the recorded uptake of the first dose of MMR vaccine given at the age of 12-13 months, decreased from 98.3% in 2007 to 95.5% in 2016 (Figure below). According to the WHO guidelines, in order to prevent measles outbreaks we need to assure administration of 2 MMR vaccine doses to at least 95% children.
The reasons for increased vaccine hesitancy is not well documented. It probably reflects a global phenomenon, seen in other countries as well. The anti-vaccination activists were efficient and creative in spreading doubts and distrust towards science, governmental institutions and authorities in general. The website SZCZEPIENIA.INFO is a governmental initiative to address the need for reliable information in the society and to oppose these negative trends.