On 27 December 2020, European citizens received COVID-19 vaccines for the first time. Since then, 910,000 doses have been administered and national authorities are now offering booster doses to reduce the impact of the omicron variant.
While the pandemic is far from over, this is a good moment to celebrate how far we have come, and to apply the lessons learned so that we can increase uptake of vaccines against flu and pneumococcal vaccines among adults, as well as getting routine immunisation back on track for all.
In my country, Italy, which was among the first to be hit hard by the pandemic, 85% of people over 12 years of age are vaccinated, and preparations are under way to offer the vaccine to children.
However, we know the battle will be long and we are still far from winning it. For this reason, it is no longer appropriate for civil society, policy makers or the media to take a neutral attitude to advocating for vaccines.
Either we are in favour of science and we are prepared to play an active role in increasing vaccination coverage, or we are in fact supporters of the viruses that can make us ill. I am deliberately speaking in the plural form as we should be thinking not only of COVID-19 vaccines but also of the so-called routine vaccinations, including those available to adults.
Active Citizenship Network, the European branch of the italian NGO Cittadinanzattiva, has conducted a survey as part of our #VaccinAction2021 campaign, exploring the challenges of concomitant administration of vaccines against flu and COVID-19. The survey attracted 82 responses by high level experts coming from 23 countries, and served as an ‘online focus’ group that would provide insights into how this issue is being handled across Europe.
The survey was supported by a webinar on 17 December at which we were joined by representatives of the European Commission, national health authorities, clinicians and citizens.
- Awareness of, and attitudes to, flu vaccination have improved
- COVID-19 booster campaigns generally did not disrupt annual influenza vaccination campaigns
- There was some confusion within several countries about when the flu vaccination, COVID 3rd dose, and COVID booster vaccination campaigns began.
- Flu vaccine supply was not an issue for the 2021/2022 flu season
- More healthcare professionals should be allowed to deliver vaccines (e.g. pharmacists)
- National immunisation information systems, coordinated at EU level, should be prioritised
The data show that health systems were able to respond well to the short and medium-term goals, but need work to ensure sufficient capacity in the long term. That is why I believe that immunisation systems should be given high priority in National Recovery Plans.
We need to have the courage, confidence and the will to implement the innovations needed to put European health systems on the right path for the future. Think, for example, of the value added by online booking systems in ensuring that people can conveniently access immunisation. These and other technologies have the power to improve citizens’ experience of healthcare, but we have invested too little for too long in technology infrastructure.
Finally, civil society organisations must continue to do everything possible to build and maintain trust in vaccines. Science does not retreat in the face of obstacles, and nor should our trust in science.
Daniela Quaggia is Senior Manager at Active Citizenship Network. This article was developed with his colleague Mariano Votta, Director of Active Citizenship Network, with editorial support from Gary Finnegan, Editor of Vaccines Today