In the autumn of 2018, almost 132.000 teenagers aged 13 to 14 in the Netherlands received an invitation for a free vaccination against meningococcal disease (a type of meningitis). Despite the 41 deaths caused by this disease since 2015, around 18.000 teens ignored the invitation.
Worrying number of teenagers in the Netherlands unvaccinated
According to figures from the Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the average national percentage of teens receiving the meningococcal vaccination totals 86,5 percent. Whilst this may seem like a good turnout, the percentage of those getting vaccinated differs greatly per region.
In Zeeland and Amsterdam, the turnout was the lowest, with only 72 and 77 percent of teens respectively going to get vaccinated. These figures stand in stark contrast with the totals of regions such as Drenthe, where 92 percent of teenagers went to get the jab.
Zeeland is a part of the “bible belt” in the Netherlands. Religious belief could explain why fewer teens participated in the round of vaccinations. This, along with the lower turnout in large cities, is worrying, feels meningococcal expert at the Dutch Reference Laboratory for Bacterial Meningitis Arie van der Ende. “In Amsterdam especially, there is a rather large group of anthroposophists or people who are sceptical about vaccines”, he says.
Death toll rises
Since 2015, 41 people have died from type-W meningococcal disease. Before 2015, the bacteria hardly ever showed up in the country, but now there are an increasing number of cases of people becoming infected, and unfortunately also a higher number of deaths. In 2016, 6 people died from the disease, in 2017 this number rose to 11 and then 22 in 2018. In January 2019 alone, two people passed away after contracting the disease.
To prevent further outbreak of the disease, another 860.000 teenagers aged 14 to 18 will receive a vaccination invitation this spring. This group is at a higher risk of death if they contract the disease: 28 percent of 14 to 24-year-olds die after becoming infected.
By getting vaccinated, teenagers not only protect themselves against the disease but also their family and friends. People who do not fall under this age group can get the vaccination, but they have to pay for it themselves. The vaccine currently protects against meningococcal types A, C, W and Y. Type B vaccinations are also available but are not yet included in the vaccination programme.
Financial penalties for not vaccinating your kids
The State Secretary responsible for the nation vaccination programme, Paul Blokhuis, is pleased with the vaccination turnout, calling it “very positive”. However, he is concerned about the areas where fewer teens showed up for their vaccinations, as these could be “potential problem spots”. A team of experts will now be called in to investigate ways to reach certain groups better.
This week, a debate was held in the House of Representatives concerning possible measures which could be taken against parents who do not have their children vaccinated. In this vein, the VVD advocated for financial penalties for these parents, such as having the child benefits they receive cut. Another item in the debate which many parties supported was the inclusion of the type B meningococcal vaccination in the national vaccination programme.