From addressing low immunisation rates in prisons and improving vaccine access for newly-arrived migrants, to developing mobile apps for parents and training material for health professionals, hundreds of researchers across Europe are focused on a major challenge: boosting vaccine uptake.
Most projects are not well known outside scientific circles, and their names are an alphabet soup of acronyms, but each has potential to deepen understanding of vaccine uptake and equip citizens and experts with the tools required to make sound decisions around vaccination.
European healthcare professionals and students came together to form the Coalition for Vaccination in 2019. Their shared goal was to support doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others in communicating with the public about vaccines. The IMMUNION project supported this work and, although that project has concluded, the Coalition continues to connect experts and share resources.
This €3 million project led by the University of Bristol brings together some of the world’s leading experts in psychology, behavioural science and vaccinology. Together, researchers are exploring vaccine misinformation and its role in shaping vaccine acceptance. They are testing ways to combat misinformation, including an inoculation theory approach in which people are exposed to ‘low doses’ of misinformation to help them recognise and respond to myths and falsehoods in future.
Moreover, outputs are shared across projects to increase the quality of trainings and educational interventions for healthcare providers. For example, check out our learning resource that provides debunkings for over 60 misinfo about vaccination https://t.co/xbdaqcQgVb— JITSUVAX (@jitsuvax) April 28, 2023
Coordinated by Tampere University in Finland, this three-year project aims to equip healthcare professionals with the latest insights on vaccine hesitancy in their region. While the focus is on trust and low vaccine acceptance among parents and the public, the researchers also note that some healthcare professionals are themselves hesitant about immunisation. VAX-TRUST is also working with students to ensure that future healthcare professionals are equipped to recognise and address low trust in vaccines.
With the ultimate goal of reducing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, and a strong focus on innovation, this three-year project is working in eight countries. It has launched a podcast series exploring the needs of various sub-populations in Europe including refugees, seasonal workers, older migrants and children attending Waldorf schools. The project has also developed several smartphone apps for parents and healthcare professionals. [Read our story on how apps can close vaccination gaps.]
Prisoners are an often overlooked population when it comes to healthcare services, including immunisation, yet their living conditions can put them at risk if an infectious disease outbreak occurs. RISE looked at how routine and COVID-19 vaccine programmes are operated in prison, and has developed a protocol for enhancing prisoners’ access to services.
Vaccine uptake among some ethnic, religious and cultural minorities across Europe is lower than the general population. To address this inequality, RIVER-EU is studying the health system barriers that make it more difficult for underserved communities to access services for children and adolescents. In particular, the project focuses on measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among migrants in Greece, Turkish and Moroccan adolescents in the Netherlands, Ukrainian migrants in Poland, and Roma communities in Slovakia. The website of this five-year project says most of its deliverables are confidential, but it has published a research paper and is working with the SEKI education platform.
A three-year project ending in April 2024, Access to Vaccination for Newly Arrived Migrants (AcToVax4NAM) aims to improve vaccination literacy and access to vaccination for people migrating to Europe, regardless of their legal status. The €1 million project began before the war on Ukraine began but its work has become even more relevant since the displacement of millions of people from Ukraine to EU countries.
The Europe Beating Cancer Plan is one of the biggest health priorities for the EU. Ending cervical cancer as a public health concern, through improved HPV vaccination and cervical screening, is part of this effort. A Joint Action on HPV Vaccination ‒ in which 18 countries collaborate with additional funding from the EU budget ‒ has recently been launched to accelerate progress. Known as PERCH (the Partnership to Contrast HPV), it will support the roll-out of routine HPV vaccination to girls and boys. The initiative is coordinated by Italian health authorities and aims to improve data and monitoring systems on HPV vaccination and HPV screening, and to enhance healthcare professionals’ ability to communicate about HPV vaccination.
Preventing cancers caused by hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections is another feature of the Europe Beating Cancer Plan. A HBV vaccine is widely available and recommended. In fact, Europe aims to eliminate hep B by 2030 through vaccination. COMSAVAC is a two-year project aiming at scaling-up HBV and HCV testing, and HCB vaccination among migrant and refugee populations. The project is running in Italy, Greece and Spain.
This €5 million, three-year service contract focuses on ‘barriers [to vaccination] of a physical, practical and administrative nature’. Led by Kantar Public, a research and advisory business, it supports the mapping of vaccination services across EU countries to identify access problems, provide a series of ‘promising practices’, and help health authorities to pilot some of these. It will launch a website shortly.
Meanwhile, there are several other projects and websites helping to improve and share knowhow about vaccines and vaccination systems.
The Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) is conducting an EU study which will result in guidance on how to assess the performance of vaccination programmes.
A separate service contract has been awarded to a consortium with members in Ireland and Germany to review scientific evidence on vaccines and capacity building activities. This will support the work of National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups (NITAGs).
In addition, the European Vaccination Information Portal provides up-to-date information on vaccines, vaccination and immunisation schedules, while the United In Protection page highlights the benefits of life-course immunisation through communication toolkits and videos.
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