Providing refugees from Ukraine with access to vaccines

22 March 2022

Article: 56/1106

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that it is providing guidance to, and working with, countries of the European Region to strengthen health system capacity in order to accommodate large numbers of refugees and ensure provision of essential health services, in particular access to vaccinations. 

Many of the countries in the European Region receiving refugees from Ukraine are already offering vaccination services to children and adults. This is necessary in mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission among people travelling or living in close quarters, in protecting refugees from diseases that may be circulating in the host country and preventing any outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles and polio. 

Hungary, Poland, the Republic of Moldova and Romania in particular have seen large numbers of refugees crossing the border from Ukraine over the past weeks. The WHO is working with these and other countries to strengthen disease surveillance and to ensure provision of immunization services, in line with the immunization schedules and policies of the host countries. 

WHO/Europe recommends that all countries in the region:

  • continue efforts to ensure their resident populations are fully vaccinated
  • ensure refugee populations are fully included in any mass vaccination or routine immunization activities against polio, measles, rubella, COVID-19 and other vaccine-preventable diseases
  • consider offering vaccination against polio, measles and rubella as a priority to incoming refugee children under the age six years who have missed any routine vaccinations
  • prepare user-friendly communication tools in a language understood by the refugees on benefits of vaccination, recommended vaccines, possible side effects and ways to access the vaccines 

To maintain high population immunity against polio and to mitigate the risk of importation and circulation of poliovirus, the WHO say all individuals and population groups should receive equitable access to, and administration of, polio vaccines in accordance with the national immunization schedules for children and adults of the host country. 

As some countries of the region are still considered endemic for measles and rubella, refugees should be vaccinated against these diseases as a priority to protect them from infection in host countries, in line with national vaccination schedules of the host country. 

To prevent severe COVID-19 disease and deaths and reduce morbidity, including post-COVID-19 conditions, COVID-19 vaccines should be offered to all refugees according to eligibility criteria defined in national COVID-19 vaccination policies of each host country. 

Furthermore, access to vaccination services shall be facilitated both for individuals at temporary common shelter sites and for those who stay within local communities. Administered doses for any of the above vaccines shall be recorded and documentation shall be made available to vaccinated individuals for further reference. 

Source: WHO/Europe, 10 March 2022