Third Briefings for Journalists within “Misinformation Management System and Journalists Briefings” Project

On December 12, 2023, a briefing for journalists was held on the topic “MMR Vaccination” as part of the “Misinformation Management System and Journalists Briefings” project, implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society in partnership with UNICEF and in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of North Macedonia, with the financial support from USAID. The goal of the project is to develop misinformation management system related to vaccination in the country and increase the capacity of media coverage on immunization.

Speakers at the briefing were Patrizia DiGiovanni, UNICEF Representative in North Macedonia, Dr. Kristina Stavridis, Epidemiologist at the Institute of Public Health and Prim. Dr. Ljiljana Kojikj, Specialist Pediatrician at the Children’s Disease Clinic. At the briefing, data were presented about the state, coverage and benefits of MMR vaccination in the country, as well as the impact of the cooperation between media and health professionals on the MMR vaccination process.

The representative of UNICEF, Patrizia DiGiovanni, said that millions of children in the world have received the MMR vaccine without consequences and emphasized that it is administered in a safe way.

“MMR vaccine is the most important in the routine child immunization because measles are the most contagious virus and the coverage should be 95 percent as to achieve collective immunity. The percentage is not that high here, at the national level it is 70 percent. There is a reduction in this coverage. Kumanovo has 40 percent, which is much lower than the expected percentage. If children get measles they are at risk of being seriously ill, having fertility problems, having other diseases and even death and that is why vaccination is necessary,” said DiGiovanni, emphasizing that there is no scientific evidence that there is a connection between MMR vaccine and autism.

Dr. Kristina Stavridis, epidemiologist from the Institute of Public Health, said that measles occur most often during childhood.

“Smallpox is a respiratory disease that can lead to severe complications and a fatal outcome. It can cause complications with those who will have it, the most serious being pneumonia and brain inflammation. Children under 5 years old and adults over 20 years old, as well as immunocompromised people and pregnant women, are at the greatest risk,” she said.

She informs that in the country there is coverage of 70 percent for the first dose and 89 percent for the second dose with the MMR vaccine.

“This coverage for the second dose shows that parents do not avoid the vaccine, but postpone it. Coverage has been low in the last two years both in our country and in the world (74 percent for the second dose), which means that we are facing an increased risk of an epidemic. Since the beginning of December, there has already been an epidemic of smallpox in Romania, with over 1,800 cases registered, under the age of 9, mostly unvaccinated population,” said Stavridis.

Dr. Ljiljana Kojikj, from the Clinic for Children’s Diseases, said that in 1972 the vaccine was brought to Macedonia.

“I was born a few years before the vaccine was brought to the country. I was not vaccinated and I got measles. I had a severe form of pneumonia. Therefore, I consider that the vaccine is one of the greatest benefits of civilization and thanks to it, we do not have diseases,” she said.

Dr. Kojikj pointed out that there is a group of confused and scared parents who read disinformation on the social media and said that it is necessary to work with people, to explain things about vaccination from every aspect, to tell them all possible complications. Speaking about her work as a pediatrician, the doctor said that she managed to convince parents who were unsure about vaccines.

At the end of the briefing, there was a presentation on the impact of the cooperation between media and health professionals on the MMR vaccination process, prepared by Svetlana Siljjanoska, Communications and PR associate, NATO and Security Affairs in the Office of the President of the Government of the Republic of North Macedonia, otherwise a member of the expert group that functions within the “Misinformation Management System and Journalists Briefings” project.

This Activity is prepared by Metamorphosis Foundation for Internet and Society as part of the Preventing and responding to COVID-19 in North Macedonia project funded by the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of North Macedonia.