Every year 1.5 million children lose their lives due to diseases that can be prevented by simple vaccination. However, false fears about vaccines are still too widespread. This is also confirmed by the European Commission, which has made it known that almost one in two Italians, 46%, is convinced that vaccines can often cause serious side effects, while a third thinks that they weaken the immune system (32%) and can cause the disease from which they protect (34%). In order to take stock of this issue and reiterate that these fears are unfounded, a world summit was announced for September in Brussels. We talked about it with Prof. Alberto Mantovani, scientific director of Humanitas.
Increasingly widespread measles in Italy: the importance of the vaccine
American President Donald Trump has called on all Americans to vaccinate against measles. An appeal that comes as the epidemic spreads from New York to Los Angeles, with the highest number of cases since 2000. In Italy the disease continues to spread: in the first three months of the year, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità warns in its latest bulletin, there are 557 cases of measles reported in our country, of which 177 in January, 170 in February and 210 in March. For 31% of patients there was at least one complication, including two cases of encephalitis and a 45-year-old adult died of respiratory complications. In addition, 62 cases were reported in children under 5 years of age, 21 of whom were under 1 year old.
Vaccines: Europe-wide skepticism
Skepticism about vaccinations is not just an Italian problem. The figure emerged from the first Eurobarometer of Europeans on vaccines presented by the EU Commission, which showed that 48% of Europeans believe that vaccines have serious and frequent side effects, a percentage that exceeds 50% in sixteen EU countries. If 85% of Europeans believe that vaccines are useful to prevent certain diseases (78% in Italy, fifth last country in the EU), about half of Italians, 48% against 29% in the EU, think that only children should vaccinate. 18% also believe that routine vaccinations are not important.
The responsibility of our doctors
In addition, the study reduces the role of social media as a source of information and highlights the responsibility of the specialists, who are the first point of reference for 79% of European citizens and 68% of Italians.
“These are incorrect perceptions that need to be addressed – said European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen -. Europe is the region in the world with the lowest level of confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines and this is a risk to public health”. The unfounded fears are countered by another figure, this time real: 1.5 million children still lose their lives every year due to diseases preventable with vaccines. Professor Mantovani stressed this during the European Week of Immunization of the WHO, which is held from 24 to 30 April: “For scientists the disclosure is a moral obligation,” said the Italian scientist also author of a book about popular vaccines. And he continued: “When, a few years ago, I joined the board of Gavi, the global alliance on vaccines, there were 2.5 million children who died from preventable causes, now there are less, 1.5 million, but there are always too many”.
Even the obligation, says Mantovani, has an important communicative value: “I think that the obligation, beyond securing children, has a pedagogical value. Think of the time when the obligation not to smoke in public places was introduced: it gave a clear message about the damage of smoking”.