Considerations on the Current Universal Vaccination Policy against Hepatitis A in Greece after Recent Outbreaks
AuthorMellou, K.; Sideroglou, T.; Papaevangelou, V.; Katsiaflaka, A.; Bitsolas, N.; Verykouki, E.; Triantafillou, E.; Baka, A.; Georgakopoulou, T.; Hadjichristodoulou, C.
Greece is the only European Union member state that in 2008 included hepatitis A (HAV) vaccine in the routine national childhood immunization program (NCIP). Given that the resources allocated to public health have dramatically decreased since 2008 and that Greece is a low endemicity country for the disease, the benefit from universal vaccination has been questioned. The aim of this paper is to summarize the available epidemiological data of the disease for 1982-2013, and discuss the effects of universal vaccination on disease morbidity. Descriptive analysis, ARIMA modeling and time series intervention analysis were conducted using surveillance data of acute HAV. A decreasing trend of HAV notification rate over the years was identified (p<0.001). However, universal vaccination (similar to 80% vaccine coverage of children) had no significant effect on the annual number of reported cases (p = 0.261) and has resulted to a progressive increase of the average age of infection in the general population. The mean age of cases before the inclusion of the vaccine to NCIP (24.1 years, SD = 1.5) was significantly lower than the mean age of cases after 2008 (31.7 years, SD = 2.1) (p<0.001). In the last decade, one third of all reported cases were Roma (a population accounting for 1.5% of the country's total population) and in 2013 three outbreaks with 16, 9 and 25 Roma cases respectively, were recorded, indicating the decreased effectiveness of the current immunization strategy in this group. Data suggest that universal vaccination may need to be re-considered. Probably a more cost effective approach would be to implement a program that will include: a) vaccination of high risk groups, b) universal vaccination of Roma children and improving conditions at Roma camps, c) education of the population and travel advice, and d) enhancement of the control measures to increase safety of shellfish and other foods.