European Parliament planning resolution on vaccines

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

May 31st, 2016

Gary Finnegan

‘Members of the European Parliament could vote before the end of the year on a new resolution in support of immunisation’

Members of the European Parliament could vote before the end of the year on a new resolution in support of immunisation

European Parliament Strasbourg Hemicycle
French MEP Françoise Grossetête is drafting a resolution to put before the European Parliament in the autumn, a meeting of vaccine advocates has been told.

Europe’s inability to eliminate measles, and the wide variation between vaccine schedules across the 28-member bloc, have prompted several MEPs to express frustration with some government’s apparent complacency about vaccination rates.

Grossetête wants the Parliament to take up the baton from EU health ministers who agreed in late 2014 to develop vaccine programmes that take a life-long approach to immunisation. With the notable exception of Italy’s new vaccine programme (which is not yet in force), there has been little in the way of follow-up 18 months after the ministers committed to action.

While national governments are responsible for delivering and funding immunisation programmes, greater coordination is envisaged in order to tackle cross-border health threats such as infectious diseases.

The precise shape of the resolution is still to be determined. It may include references to Europe’s role as a global hub of vaccine development and production, as well as to vaccine shortages, the lack of awareness campaigns in some EU countries, and a global health perspective prompted by the need to respond to outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika.

Adult vaccination on the agenda

The resolution was outlined by one of Ms Grossetête’s advisors at a meeting on adult vaccination held in the European Parliament. The event, organised by the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) and hosted by UK MEP Julie Girling, looked at the growing importance of immunisation across the life span.

Chris Head, President of CoMO, said the lifetime costs of a severe case of meningitis or septicaemia – in terms of long-term medical, educational and social support – can be very high. “When we talk about cost-effectiveness of vaccination we should bear in mind the cost of not vaccinating,” he said.

David Sinclair, International Longevity Centre, said there is a very strong economic evidence-base to support adult vaccination but also highlighted significant inequalities in accessing immunisation. “We know vaccine-preventable diseases have a huge impact on longevity, on our ability to live long, healthy lives,” he added.

A range of stakeholders representing health professionals, EU institutions, industry and civil society also voiced support for a life-course approach to immunisation.

Adult immunisation: stakeholders’ views

Lale Ozisik, Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey said healthcare workers have an important role to play in increasing adult immunisation rates. “Many adults simply do not know they need vaccines throughout life. Education and guidance is needed as well as better monitoring, disease surveillance and funding.” She said health workers should be vaccinated so that they do not risk infecting patients and disrupting healthcare services by being sick.

Peggy Maguire, European Institute of Women’s Health, said Europe needs a common strategy for vaccination across the lifespan as well as targeted health literacy programmes aimed at specific populations. “Infectious diseases move easily across borders. The EU Cross-border healthcare legislation presents an opportunity for collaboration,” she said.

Professor Catherine Weil-Olivier said civil society organisations have a valuable role to play in improving immunisation uptake. “We should take a bottom-up approach to communication by listening to people rather than telling them what we think. Online and social media can help in this regard,” she said. Professor Weil-Olivier also noted that the public is more receptive to the idea of protection than prevention.

Dr Barbara Rath, a Berlin-based paediatrician, said mothers tend to care for others – their children and their parents, for example – better than they care for themselves. Understanding this “internal bias” is essential to increasing vaccination rates among pregnant women, she said. “Pregnant women do not vaccine to protect themselves; they do it to protect their child.” She said a women’s first pregnancy is a key opportunity to introduce the importance of vaccines.

Professor David Salisbury, who chaired the panel discussion, said enthusiastic vaccine advocacy must be translated into action. He noted that several speakers had highlighted the role of communication in fostering public trust, adding that the media can be a barrier. Organisations like the UK-based Science Media Centre – which provides objective information to journalists about scientific topics – can be “an extraordinarily valuable interface for immunisation.” Professor Salisbury noted the role of vaccines in tackling antimicrobial resistance, saying that this should be included when communicating the benefits of immunisation.


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