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THL: Finnish vaccination levels satisfactory

After a case of measles was discovered in a Sammatti school near Lohja on Monday, dozens of unvaccinated children living nearby have been placed under quarantine. A spokesperson for Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) says there is no need for concern, however.

Hoitajaa pitää kädessään rokotusruiskua neuvolassa.
Finland has enjoyed highly comprehensive vaccination coverage. Image: Yle

According to THL’s Chief Physician Tuija Leino vaccination coverage in Finland is very good. She says that there have been no significant drops in vaccination levels administered in health clinics in the last years, even though a believed connection to narcolepsy caused much public debate.

Leino says that, with the exception of the optional influenza vaccine, vaccination coverage in Finland has remained steady at 95 per cent. THL has collected regular statistics on vaccination coverage for decades.  

“In order to combat measles, it is imperative that vaccination coverage is comprehensive. This is the case in Finland. Of course it is possible that small pockets of infection may crop up that reveal clusters of unvaccinated people in certain areas,” says Leino.

Risking the return of eradicated diseases

“The choice not to receive vaccinations could mean that some infectious diseases that were eradicated from Finland could return,” says Markku Kuusi of the THL’s unit for infectious disease prevention.

After Sammatti announced earlier in the week that a student there had contracted measles on a trip abroad, dozens of children in the village had to be quarantined because they had not been vaccinated against the disease. Kuusi says that vaccinations are important to prevent an epidemic, as measles spreads quite easily. Vaccinations are also important because children who have had no vaccines can be exposed to other diseases as well.

Measles was thought to be eradicated in Finland in the early nineties, after a widespread vaccination programme. Now there are only a few infections a year. Nevertheless, over half of the school’s children in the Lohja case were unvaccinated, with some only receiving the vaccine after the measles case had come to light.

Magic number 95

Kuusi says 95 per cent coverage must be maintained to keep disease out of the country. As an example, he points out that polio has once more begun to spread in Syria, due to vaccination negligence resulting from the civil war.

Unvaccinated children in the Sammatti village school and its nearby day care centre have been ordered to observe the quarantine until next Tuesday. Kuusi feels the duration is sufficient.

"The normal incubation period for measles is 9 to 11 days, although individual cases may still appear, because it can sometimes last up to three weeks.”

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