Experts agree that Spain's vaccination levels are "enviable" because at least 95 per cent of children in this country are immunised against the principal infectious illnesses. This has resulted in the incidence of measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and polio, among others, being practically reduced to zero. This is due to an annual programme of vaccinations at health centres and paediatric clinics, combined with the work of scientific societies and the health administrations.
However, the president of the Spanish Vaccinology Association, Amós García, warns that "we have to be alert and vigilant" if that situation is not to change. He says everyone in the health system must continue their efforts to encourage vaccination, and that parents who still have doubts about the need for it, although they are low in number and do not constitute a protest movement as such, need to be convinced. This should be done, he says, through "constructive discourse, providing reliable quality information which shows the effectiveness of immunisation".
The association's example is backed up by the third and expanded edition of 'Vacuna a Vacuna', a complete Spanish guidebook in print and online (vacunas.org) for health professionals and the population in general. It provides information about vaccinations, their benefits and the illnesses they prevent.
The coordinator of the book, María José Álvarez Pasquín, agrees that it would be wrong to become blasé about the excellent work done so far in Spain.
She says the cases of France and Italy are "a warning to be borne in mind". Years ago both of those countries had vaccination levels similar to those of Spain, but now, due to a major drop in vaccinations, they are two of the European countries with the highest numbers of measles outbreaks, from which several children have died.
"If you drop your guard and don't vaccinate, the illnesses which are now under control reappear," says Ángel Gil, a professor of Preventive Medicine.
Dr Álvarez Pasquín also says that although most children in Spain are innoculated, the same cannot be said for adolescents and even less so for adults. She points out that the rate of vaccination against the human papiloma virus needs to be increased. It is recommended for girls aged 11 or 12, costs nothing, and protects against uterine cancer. However, only 77 per cent of girls of this age are having the vaccination.
The other type of immunisation with low take-up levels is the flu vaccine. Experts say it would be desirable for more people to be vaccinated against flu in general, but it is essential for those at high risk such as pregnant women and the over-60s. They also believe more health workers should have the flu jab, as the present level is just 32 per cent, even though they could pass the virus on to patients for whom the infection could cause serious medical complications.