The new vaccination schedule for 2023 warns against flu and measles

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The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is here to stay. But that should not obscure the view of other vaccine-preventable diseases. Now the “Vaccination Plan Austria 2023” of the Ministry of Health has been published. It warns, in particular, against influenza and less measles vaccination protection in children. The latter may prove to be a risk again with some delay.

Every year, a broad panel of experts has summarized the status and recommendations on immunizations in the Austrian Immunization Plan. The current paper, which came out Tuesday (Dec. 20), outlines the current situation in Austria in the preliminary remarks: “The current pandemic situation in Austria requires an increase in Covid-19 vaccination coverage rates so that as many people as possible receive Covid-19 vaccinations according to the valid recommendations. In addition, other vaccinations must not be neglected. For example, efforts to reduce the risk of contracting pertussis, measles and influenza continue to be needed.”

Currently, the influenza wave is already in full swing. However, it is still possible to be vaccinated and protected in ten to 14 days. The Austrian vaccination plan: “In the 2022/23 season, the influenza wave with Nov. 29, 2022, was proclaimed comparatively early. Further co-circulation with SARS-CoV-2 will likely occur. With a possible simultaneous circulation of influenza viruses and SARS-CoV-2, a double infection or sequential infection cannot be ruled out (severe courses possible, especially in risk groups). Influenza is likely to increase the risk of a severe covid-19 course and vice versa. Influenza vaccination is also important to avoid hospitalization for influenza. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the chronically ill, and the elderly aged 60 and older are at particular risk for severe courses: More than 60 percent of all influenza-associated hospitalizations and about 90 percent of deaths fall in the infant and elderly age groups.”

Vaccination is recommended at six months and is available in the free pediatric vaccination program this influenza season (2022/2023). An Austria-wide low-threshold vaccination program against viral influenza for adults is also still planned for next year (2023/2024). There is a general vaccination recommendation for all people, “with priority for people over the age of 60, the chronically ill, groups of people with other risk factors, and healthcare and elderly care staff.”

The situation around measles (MMR vaccination; measles, mumps, rubella) is continuing to look complicated. “Since the measles outbreak in 2008 with 443 cases, Austria has been confronted with outbreaks every year until 2020, mainly in the 15- to 40-year-old age group (with a high proportion of healthcare workers) followed by those less than five years old (…). In 2020, only 25 cases of measles were reported in Austria, and two cases in 2021. Thus, the numbers have dropped sharply compared to previous years,” the “Vaccination Plan Austria 2023” states.

However, it says this should be seen in the light of the Covid 19 lockdowns. They have restricted the spread of all viruses transmissible via human-to-human contact. It won’t stay that way, however. According to the updated vaccination schedule, “Since the pandemic, there has also been a decline in MMR vaccination rates in Austria, particularly among children under one year of age. The report said that to close vaccination gaps and prevent renewed large measles outbreaks,” an increase in vaccination coverage rates is urgently needed and would be a high priority.

In a “Measles 2021 Summary Report” published by the Ministry of Health, experts wrote: “When looking at measles vaccination coverage rates, a slightly worse picture was observed for 2021 than for the previous year. To be sure, the number of documented vaccinations only decreased by almost five percent. However, this decline mainly affects the vaccination coverage rates of very young children. (…) Whereas in 2020, more than 95 percent of these children had already received the first partial vaccination and 88 percent the second partial vaccination, the vaccination coverage rate for two-year-olds in 2021 is only 84 percent for the first partial vaccination and 74 percent for the second partial vaccination.”

This trend had already become apparent in 2020 when the one-year-olds had been significantly worse vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella than the one-year-olds the year before. In 2021, it was therefore not possible to make up for the vaccination shortfall that had occurred there. In the two- to five-year-old age group, the goal of a 95 percent vaccination coverage rate was achieved, at least for the first vaccination dose. “The coverage rate dropped slightly from 90 percent to 88 percent for the second vaccination. Specifically, this means that about 25,000 children in this age group received only the first partial vaccination. In the six- to nine-year-old age group, vaccination coverage rates for the first dose are also beyond 95 percent, but for the second dose, coverage is just under 90 percent. Thus, slightly more than 31,000 children in Austria have received only the first and not yet the second partial vaccination,” according to the “Measles 2021 Summary Report.”

One advance in the Austrian vaccination system this year is ending: HPV vaccination (human papillomavirus/cervical cancer, etc.). “At the end of 2022, under Federal Minister Johannes Rauch, it was possible to extend the provision of HPV vaccination in the free vaccination program from February 2023 until the completed 21st year of life.” This should help prevent several hundred cancer cases each year and achieve or implement WHO and EU targets in this area.

(S E R V I C E – Immunization schedule on the Ministry of Health site: http://go.apa.at/ercinwcK)

  • source: APA/picture: pixabay.com
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