Vaccines prevent diseases that could otherwise cause serious health problems, permanent disability or even death. Vaccines are used in hundreds of millions of people worldwide each year to protect from serious diseases.
For example, during 2018 about 86% of infants worldwide received three doses of the vaccine that protects them against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP), and 85% of infants around the world received three doses of polio vaccine (1).
Unlike a treatment given to cure an illness, vaccines are usually given to healthy people to prevent them from getting ill. Therefore, the long-term benefits of getting vaccinated may not be immediately obvious.
Many infectious diseases are very rare today thanks to vaccination, so the negative consequences of these diseases are sometimes forgotten. If people stopped being vaccinated, many of these diseases and related outbreaks could return.
Measles had almost been eliminated in many European countries.
However, since October 2016 a resurgence of measles has been observed in the EU/EEA, with outbreaks in several countries (2), due to a decline in vaccination rates.
Measles can be serious or even life-threatening. For more information, see measles factsheet.
The only protection against measles is vaccination. The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (German measles). The MMR vaccine is safe and effective.
Pertussis (whooping cough) is a disease affecting the airways. It can spread quickly. It will often lead to hospitalisation in infants, and the risk of complications and hospitalisation increases for infants younger than three months. It can cause severe spasms of cough and usually lasts three to six weeks.
Complications can include pneumonia, encephalopathy (a disease of the brain), seizures and even death. For more information, see pertussis factsheet.
Vaccination against pertussis is part of national immunisation programmes in the EU. This protects children from whooping cough, while it only causes minor side effects. About 20% of infants will have redness and pain at the injection site. Less than 5% will have fever.
(2) ECDC risk assessment ‘Who is at risk for measles in the EU/EEA?’, 28 May 2019: https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications-data/risk-assessment-measles-eu-eea-2019
Approval of vaccines in the European Union
Before a vaccine can be approved in the EU, it has to undergo rigorous testing by its developer...
Monitoring vaccine safety and reporting side effects
Once a vaccine is approved for use, EU/EEA national authorities and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), continually monitor side effects in people who have received the vaccine.
A vaccine's ability to prevent a specific disease determines its effectiveness.
How vaccines work
Each virus and bacterium triggers a unique response in the immune system involving a specific set of cells in the blood...
Decisions on vaccines in use in different European countries
Individual European countries decide which vaccines should be part of their national vaccination programmes and funded by their national health systems.