Vaccination debated at open house
How should we go about achieving the UN’s global sustainable development goals? In mid-September, the Department of Public Health Sciences cohosted an open house on this theme, concluding the day with a panel debate on how information – and myths – about vaccination can be managed.
The overall purpose of the UN’s 17 global sustainable development goals is to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce inequality and injustice and tackle climate change. These global goals were also the theme of an open house at the Widerström Building on 14 September, arranged in collaboration between the department of Public Health Sciences at Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm County Council’s (SLL) Centre for Epidemiology and Community Medicine and the Public Health Agency of Sweden.
During the afternoon, visitors were able to attend lectures in the fields of infectious diseases, inequality, policy, children and young people, and epidemiological surveillance. The day concluded with a panel debate at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, focusing on the third global goal – good health and well-being. The issue of the day was how to deal with people’s doubts about vaccination.
Important that the university promotes sustainability
Vice-Chancellor of Karolinska Institutet Ole Petter Ottersen began by emphasising the universities responsibility to adopt the UN’s global sustainable development goals.
“We educate the leaders of tomorrow, who will implement the goals which must be incorporated into KI and the universities,” he stated.
While emphasising KI’s important role in the vaccination debate, as a bearer of facts and scientific evidence, he also raises the importance of communicating the uncertainties.
“When it comes to vaccines, society craves facts. But what are the uncertainties and how can we communicate these? In certain cases, it is more important to explain what remains to be done,” says Ole Petter Ottersen.
Panellists included Lucia Pastore Celentano, head of the vaccine-preventable disease programme at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), who stated that over 20,000 cases of measles have been reported in EU member states in the past year alone.
“This is the largest number we have ever seen,” she said.
Ann Lindstrand, head of the Vaccine and Register Unit at the Public Health Agency of Sweden, contributed a Swedish perspective, bearing witness to the country’s high and stable 97 percentage vaccination level.
“We have good control over our vaccine-preventable diseases and this is because our system of paediatric healthcare clinics allows nurses to build trust and long-term relationships with parents.”
A matter of solidarity?
Sahar Nejat, paediatric public health advisor at Stockholm County Council, agreed with Ann Lindstrand that the Swedish system of paediatric healthcare is unique and creates trust. She also works at a paediatric clinic in Rinkeby, where nurses are under considerable pressure on the issue of vaccines.
“The doubting groups vary. Some are well-read, well-educated people looking for help to sort through the available information; some of those we have trouble reaching have strong opinions about vaccination and others are afraid of the link between autism and the measles vaccine,” she says.
The panellists were united in believing that knowledge is generally low regarding the diseases for which vaccines are currently available.
“Many parents have never been exposed to these diseases, so we need to explain that they can be life threatening. We receive more questions about the risks associated with vaccination than their effects,” said Lucia Pastore Celentano, emphasising that we should be discussing vaccination at a societal rather than individual level.
“If everyone thinks at the individual level, cases of disease will increase – something we’re already seeing with diphtheria. Vaccinating one’s is a service one performs for the community.
Collaboration important in making progress
This is the third time that Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm County Council and the Public Health Agency of Sweden have arranged an event of this kind.
“We do this in order to increase the scope of collaboration. It is just as much a social event as it is scientific and field-related, so it fulfils multiple functions,” explains Bo Burström, one of the organisers and a professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences.