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Majority of hepatitis unknown in Ireland, while measles continues to kill in the EU

Most Irish people do not know that several diseases, including hepatitis, measles and tetanus, are still causing death in Europe, according to an EU study.

A survey commissioned by the European Commission also revealed that one in 10 Irish respondents questioned the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infectious diseases.

A similar proportion said they did not believe that vaccines were rigorously tested before they were authorized for use. More than 27,500 individuals in 28 EU states, including 1,078 in Ireland, were asked about their attitudes towards vaccines.

The results showed that the majority of Irish respondents correctly identified meningitis and influenza as fatal diseases. However, only 43% believed that measles was a potentially fatal infection and only 41% believed it was hepatitis. The tetanus value was 17%.

According to medical research, immunization through vaccination is the best defense against serious and potentially fatal diseases that are also preventable, such as diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, tuberculosis, polio, measles and hepatitis B.

However, the European Commission, as well as national governments and medical professionals, is concerned about falling vaccination levels, driven in part by anti-vaccination activists.

Health Minister Simon Harris is seeking legal advice on whether to require children to have compulsory vaccines before attending schools or crèches would be constitutional.

Although Europe has been polio-free since 2002, there have been 89 cases of tetanus in the EU in 2017, of which 14 were fatal. Between February 2018 and January 2019, there were 12,266 cases of measles within the EU, of which 33 were fatal.

In 2016, there were 304 deaths, resulting from 3,280 confirmed cases of invasive meningococcal disease, in the 30 EU / EEA member states.

A spokesman for the European Commission said:

Vaccination is one of the most successful public health measures to date. Vaccines not only prevent disease and save lives, but also reduce health costs.

Although the European Commission said the results were positive, with 85% of EU citizens believing that vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases, he said it is "disturbing" that 48% of Europeans believe that vaccines often produce effects collaterals. while 38% thought that vaccines can cause the diseases they protect against.

Research has shown that 7% of Irish respondents did not do any vaccination in the last five years because they believe vaccines are not safe and can have side effects – slightly below the EU average of 9%.

More than half – 57% – incorrectly stated that vaccines often produce serious side effects.

The Eurobarometer survey showed that 17% of Irish respondents disagreed that it was important that everyone had routine vaccinations, while 13% disagreed that non-vaccination could lead to serious health problems.

Although vaccination policy is a problem for national authorities, the EU is taking steps to strengthen cooperation with a view to achieving a 95% vaccination coverage rate, including reaching out to vulnerable groups.

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