A new report by experts in vaccination and public health calls for stronger commitments from European leaders to take a life-course approach to vaccination. The success of childhood immunisation programmes has helped save millions of lives and delivered social and economic benefits, according to the authors of A life-course approach to vaccination: adapting European policies.
However, for many people, immunisation remains strongly associated with children’s health despite the availability of vaccines for people at other stages of life. For example, older people, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions are priorities for flu vaccination; HPV vaccines against cervical cancer are offered to adolescents; and catch-up campaigns have been run in several countries to ensure adults are protected against measles and other highly-infectious viruses.
The report highlights the benefits of vaccination throughout the life-course and identifies actions that should be taken to improve vaccine uptake – including measures to overcome vaccine hesitancy, initiatives designed to engage health professionals, improved disease surveillance, and vaccination in non-healthcare settings such as schools and workplaces. It also points to the example of Italy which has embraced life-course immunisation.
‘By vaccinating and educating people about vaccination throughout their lives, we can build a population that has a better capacity to lead healthy, productive lives for longer,’ the report says. ‘This, in turn, will contribute to the sustainability of our healthcare systems and the productivity of our societies overall, for current and future generations.’
The authors have also published an open letter to leading EU health policymakers including Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner responsible for health, and his key advisors.
‘We call on stakeholders to come together to implement concerted actions to ensure vaccination achieves its full potential for future generations and remains a hallmark of successful prevention in years to come,’ the letter states. ‘We would like to echo the European Commission’s leadership in encouraging governments and the healthcare community to adopt a life-course approach to vaccination, in order to ensure a future-proof approach to vaccination policy.’
Dr Vytenis Andriukaitis, who is a medical doctor, has made immunisation a priority during his time in charge of EU health policy. He is a regular advocate of vaccination via social media and at public events.
So exited and looking forward to the #FacebookLive chat on #vaccination today @ 14:00 !
Don't hesitate to send your questions & comments to my FB: just comment on the post https://t.co/Abr5v2kWo6#VaccinesWork #EUVaccines pic.twitter.com/8Xdoo0UbgD
— Vytenis Andriukaitis (@V_Andriukaitis) April 26, 2018
In late April, the European Commission published a new proposal for stronger EU cooperation on preventable diseases. It features 20 concrete actions, including the development of a common vaccination card that can be shared electronically across borders; the development of a European vaccination information portal; training healthcare workers to engage with patients; and the development of a Coalition for Vaccination.
‘Vaccination is one of the most powerful and cost-effective public health measures developed in the 20th century,’ Dr Andriukaitis said. ‘As a medical doctor, I find it disheartening to witness children dying because of low uptake, vaccine hesitancy, or vaccine shortages. Infectious diseases are not confined within national borders. One Member State’s immunisation weakness puts the health and security of citizens at risk across the EU. Cooperating in this area is in all of our interests. Protect our children, vaccinate!’
Several of the measures set out in the plan would require agreement of, and collaboration between, national governments by the end of 2018. For its part, the Commission has pledged to produce regular progress reports on implementation, as well as a report on ‘The State of Confidence in Vaccines in the EU’, to monitor attitudes towards vaccination.
As Europe grapples with measles outbreaks and, in some countries, low uptake of vaccines against flu, HPV and childhood illnesses, a new Joint Action on vaccination has also been launched. Co-funded by European countries with €3 million from the EU Health Programme, it will focus on vaccine hesitancy and measures to increase vaccination coverage. It is coordinated by INSERM (France) and 24 countries (among them 20 EU) are partners.
Separately, an independent report published in April by The European Health Parliament – a group of more than 50 young professionals working in the health sector and EU policymaking – has made vaccines one of its five health priorities. Several of their recommendations are echoed in the Commission’s plans and the new expert report on life-course immunisation – notably in areas such as disease surveillance and vaccine hesitancy.