On 21 April 2022, the European Commission held the 5th meeting of national Child Guarantee Coordinators to discuss how Member States can ensure equitable access to healthcare and vaccinations for vulnerable children. The European Child Guarantee (ECG) is the first comprehensive EU-level policy tool which aims to address disadvantage and exclusion by supporting Member States efforts to ensure access to quality key services for children in need.
The meeting focused on response measures to support refugee children from Ukraine. The RIVER-EU country coordinator for Poland, Professor Maria Gańczak, from the Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Zielona Gora in Poland, presented preliminary findings from the interviews held with Ukrainian economic migrants in Poland about the MMR and HPV vaccinations. The interviews with the community in Poland were carried out in early 2022, before the Russian invasion in Ukraine.
The collected evidence in Poland could help Member States welcoming Ukrainian refugees to ensure continuity of routine vaccinations and help address gaps in prior vaccination histories. Addressing vaccine confidence will be important, said Professor Gańczak, as in 2020, only 82% of Ukrainian children nationwide had been vaccinated against measles, and 84% of children had been immunized against polio, but the proportions had dropped to as low as 60% in some regions (WHO European Region Datasheet). The RIVER-EU research shows that low levels of vaccination were largely linked to distrust in government and a commonly held view that pharmaceutical companies promote specific vaccines to increase profits.
Among health system barriers to vaccination that Ukrainian economic migrants face in Poland, the language barrier is cited as an important obstacle to receive, understand and discuss information about vaccination with health professionals. The same is true for general practitioners who struggle to understand medical records in foreign languages. The complete results from RIVER-EU research on health system barriers and enablers to vaccination in communities with low vaccine uptake are expected at the end of 2022. The ultimate aim of the research – and the RIVER-EU project as a whole – is to improve access to vaccination services for children and adolescents in selected underserved communities, specifically reducing inequity in measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. For more information about the immediate steps needed to prevent a measles outbreak due to the ongoing war in Ukraine and low vaccination rates, please refer to the WHO news release (28 April 2022, Lviv, Ukraine).