In an exclusive interview with Vaccines Today, Austrian MEP Karin Kadenbach said social media are having a major influence on public opinion, often spreading misinformation about the risks of vaccines without detailing their benefits.
“It is my conviction that a fruitful discussion must be based on arguments and scientific results. Unfortunately there seem to be certain resentments towards vaccination programmes, particularly when it comes to child immunisation. These concerns have to be taken seriously and be addressed by dialogue and information,” she said.
Diseases without borders
Kadenbach has initiated a European coalition on vaccination as part of a broader effort to improve cross-border cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases. She said Brussels can play an important role in finding common strategies and raising public awareness.
“It would be dangerous to become immune to good arguments for vaccination. It is a fact that European vaccination programmes are a success story,” Kadenbach said.
She welcomed the agreement by EU health ministers who have agreed to make a concerted effort to boost vaccine uptake across Europe. The Austrian MEP said the move was timely, especially given the recent measles outbreaks.
“We have failed to meet the goal to eliminate measles and rubella by 2010 which is why we should increase our common efforts to meet the target of eradicating these highly infectious, dangerous and under-estimated diseases by 2015 as already announced by the WHO.”
Discussing behind-the-scenes plans by the European Commission for a ‘vaccination passport’ – a tool for tracking children’s immunisation schedule when they move between members states – Kadenbach said Brussels must be careful not to replicate international systems which are already in place.
“It has to be taken into consideration that an international WHO vaccination passport already exists. Now the question is whether a neutral EU vaccination passport would be additionally beneficial.”
She said an impact assessment could be conducted in collaboration with the WHO, but added that a language-neutral EU system could help to overcome linguistic differences which can be a barrier to monitoring vaccine uptake.
Below is the transcript of an interview with Karin Kadenbach MEP
Vaccines Today: European health ministers have agreed on a detailed plan to tackle childhood immunisation. What is your reaction to this and what do you see as the most important element of the Council conclusions?
Karin Kadenbach MEP: Childhood immunisation is among my political priorities. Therefore I am pleased by the Council’s conclusion on this topic. Combating measles and other infectious diseases is a task which should not be taken lightly.
We have failed to meet the goal to eliminate measles and rubella by 2010 which is why we should increase our common efforts to meet the target of eradicating these highly infectious, dangerous and under-estimated diseases by 2015 as already announced by the WHO.
I am happy that the ministers highlighted the unfortunately limited access of vulnerable groups, such as Roma communities, to vaccination programmes. I also see an urgent need to take steps in order to improve awareness of the beneficial effects of preventive measures.
It would be dangerous to become immune against good arguments for vaccination. It is a fact that European vaccination programmes are a success story.
Vaccines Today: Given that the responsibility and competence for European health policy lies primarily with Member States, what role can the EU play in an area like vaccination? What can MEPs do?
Karin Kadenbach MEP: Most importantly the EU can play a coordinating role. While national vaccination programmes should be encouraged where they are reasonable, it would be in the interests of the European Member States to find a common strategy for child immunisation as well as raising public awareness.
Additionally the European institutions can make recommendations. As a MEP myself I have initiated a European coalition on vaccination.
Vaccines Today: One idea that has been floated recently is to have a ‘vaccination passport’ for children to help ensure continuity of immunisation schedules when families move within the EU. Are you in favour of this?
Karin Kadenbach MEP: It has to be taken into consideration that an international WHO vaccination passport already exists. Now the question is whether a neutral EU vaccination passport would be additionally beneficial. The impact has to be analysed carefully and in particular in close cooperation with the WHO. A neutral EU vaccination passport could indeed facilitate free movement by overcoming language barriers within the vaccination monitoring system.
Vaccines Today: There’s a lot happening at the moment in the area of ehealth and cross-border healthcare. Do these have any bearing on cross-border vaccination cooperation between Member States?
Karin Kadenbach MEP: In my opinion the issue of vaccination has to be tackled in a broader perspective and by a larger group of people. More importantly emotions have to be left out of the discussion in order to foster an honest dialogue based on scientific research. This is why I have initiated a European coalition on vaccinations. So far we are trying to bring together representatives of the European Commission and the World Health Organisation, European Vaccine Manufacturers, university scientists, and Members of the European Parliament.
Vaccines Today: Health ministers pledged to tackle vaccine scepticism through communication campaigns and ECDC chief Marc Sprenger has said that social media websites like Twitter and Facebook are influencing public opinion on vaccination. Do you think health officials and politicians have been too conservative in engaging with new media?
Karin Kadenbach MEP: Public opinion is being influenced by new media, such as the internet and social media including Facebook and Twitter. In this area we are dealing with a huge potential of misinformation which may result in unfounded fear.
It is my conviction that a fruitful discussion must be based on arguments and scientific results. Unfortunately there seem to be certain resentments towards vaccination programmes, particularly when it comes to child immunisation. These concerns have to be taken seriously and be addressed by dialogue and information.
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