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Child MMR vaccination rates rise in western Finland

Finland's health watchdog has published a preliminary list of vaccination rates for kids born in 2017.

Avaamaton MPR-rokote lähikuvassa, tuhkarokko-, sikotauti- ja vihurirokkorokote, 3.12.2018.
A unopened MMR vaccine package Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

The vaccination rate of children in Finland is very high, according to a fresh report from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

The agency noted, however, clear differences remain in vaccination rates across eastern and western Finland.

Despite the recent rise of so-called "anti-vaxxers" in Finland - people who question the health benefits of vaccinations - very few parents in the country have avoided letting their children get their jabs.

Just one half a percentage point of children in the country have not received their basic vaccinations on schedule, and the country's vaccination rate has remained steady compared to recent years, according to Ulpu Elonsalo, THL's chief physician.

"Child vaccination rates have been kept at an excellent level nationally," Elonsalo said.

On Wednesday the health agency published figures on vaccination rates of children born in 2017.

Nationally, more than 98 percent of babies born that year had received the vaccine protecting them against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and infections caused by haemophilus influenzae bacteria.

Meanwhile, 96 percent of those children received the MMR vaccine (MPR in Finnish) - the jab against measles, mumps, and rubella.

However, Elonsalo said there were regional differences in the vaccine coverage rates across the country.

"There is a slight difference between the west and east. On the west coast there are some children who have not received all of their scheduled vaccines, specifically in Ostrobothnia and the Swedish-speaking population along the coast," Elonsalo said.

Incomplete data

THL has still not gathered all the data from every municipality in Ostrobothnia, but figures from the region's municipality of Vörå showed only 92.9 percent of kids born in 2017 had received their first of two MMR jabs. Similarly, in Pedersöre municipality vaccine coverage of that age group was found to be below herd immunity levels, at 93.8 percent, according to the report.

Herd immunity is the indirect protection from infectious disease after a large percentage of the population has become immune, and spread of the disease is stopped or slowed.

Coverage of at least 95 percent is needed for herd immunity, according to Elonsalo.

Even though vaccination rates were relatively low in those municipalities compared to national averages, they were still higher than the previous year. For example, Malax municipality had an 82.6 percent vaccination coverage rate for 2016, but rose to 97.7 percent the following year.

While the basic vaccination rate for preschool-age kids is at 100 percent across the country in the majority of municipalities, the Ostrobothnian municipality of Larsmo showed a vaccination rate of 88.1 percent for children born in 2017. Just 130 km south, in the municipality of Malax, the coverage stood at 89.1 percent for kids born in 2016, but by the following year had risen to 100 percent.

Marked improvement

"Vaccination coverage for MMR has clearly risen in Jakobstad and Larsmo," Elonsalo said.

Coverage was below 95 percent in one of five municipalities in the region.

"But in that group, there are many municipalities that almost reach that level," Elonsalo explained.

THL has not yet been able to calculate complete vaccination rates due to low birth rates or because of missing data in various municipalities.

In 2018 a Larsmo resident contracted measles and managed to expose around 260 individuals before the contagious disease was diagnosed, resulting in the quarantine of 18 people. That measles case apparently prompted an improvement in vaccination rates in the western municipality, with initial MMR vaccinations rising from 75.5 to 82.2 percent over the course of a year.

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