Due to the successful implementation of vaccination strategies early-life morbidity and mortality due to infectious disease has been reduced dramatically. Vaccines against tetanus and diphtheria are among the most frequently used vaccines worldwide, but various studies in different European countries have shown that protection against tetanus and particularly against diphtheria is unsatisfactory in adults and older persons.
In this study we analyzed tetanus- and diphtheria-specific antibody concentrations in 2100 adults of different age from 6 selected European countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland) in order to investigate differences in the level of protection against tetanus and diphtheria across Europe. Our data reveal that tetanus- and diphtheria-specific antibody concentrations vary greatly between countries, which is also reflected in the percentage of persons with antibody concentrations below the protective level (0.1 IU/ml), which ranged from 2 to 31% percent for tetanus and 28–63% for diphtheria. In most countries, tetanus- and diphtheria-specific antibody concentrations decrease with age. This phenomenon is more pronounced in countries with generally low antibody levels, such as Italy, Poland and Greece. Interestingly, tetanus-specific antibody concentrations are generally higher in males than in females, which is probably due to vaccination during their military service or more frequent booster vaccinations after injuries, whereas no gender-related differences were found for diphtheria-specific antibodies.
In conclusion, our study demonstrates that the European population is not fully protected against tetanus and diphtheria. Measures to improve protection should include a life-long perspective on vaccination, more education to increase awareness of and compliance with vaccination guidelines, and a harmonization of recommendations and incentives across Europe.