Q: You have just taken over as President of Vaccines Europe, the voice of Europe’s vaccines sector. What are the main challenges facing the industry in the years ahead?
A: The next main challenge for our Industry is to ensure that Europe retains excellence in prevention and immunisation programmes. Lifespan immunisation is undoubtedly an essential strategy to achieve well-being and healthy ageing both identified as critical success factors for the European Commission’s goal of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in Europe by 2020.
Q: Why are prevention and immunisation so important?
A: The European healthcare systems are at the crossroads of a major transformation. During the last thirty years healthcare expenditure has been growing much more rapidly than GDP in all OECD countries, raising growing concerns about the long-term sustainability of current trends. The standards of healthcare that are today provided to European citizens are economically unsustainable in their current form. Improving prevention for all, promoting immunisation, facilitating life-long learning, active ageing and well-being all make for more prosperous and fairer societies and help them to face the challenges and capture the opportunities in a global economy.
Q: How this can be achieved?
A: We need to focus on three areas: awareness, access, and maintaining and strengthening Europe’s leadership in vaccines both in term of science and manufacturing excellence.
Q: Why do you consider awareness to be so critical?
A: By awareness, I mean public awareness and acceptance of the importance of vaccination, and compliance with national immunisation programmes. Vaccines are often said to be a ‘victim of their own success’. Because vaccines have dramatically reduced the incidence of several diseases, the public no longer sees these diseases and thinks the threat is gone. But the threat from many vaccine-preventable illnesses remains, so continued vigilance is required. We lack political leadership here. Public health programmes are today strongly influenced by short-sighted austerity measures. This means that we have to do more to put the value of vaccines at the centre of public policies. It is a shared goal for governments, health professionals, the public and our industry.
Q: Why do you see this as a particular challenge?
A: In Europe, vaccination policies are significantly imbalanced. A strong focus is on childhood vaccination where there are systems in place and it is considered a normal part of the health and social systems in most countries. When it comes to lifespan immunisation, keeping people healthy and reducing the risks of diseases through life, the systems are not yet as well developed. Cervical cancer, universal flu vaccination and shingles are a tangible example of this. Our industry needs to shift its thinking on how to set up appropriate implementation structures if we want to get better results.
Q: Could you give an example of this shift in thinking?
A: Just look at the US where they made their message on flu vaccination much simpler: instead of running several campaigns targeting high risk groups such as older people, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses, they now recommend universal flu vaccination. This has helped simplify things for the public. It removes the uncertainty. It means that someone with a chronic lung condition need not wonder whether they are in a priority group for flu vaccination – the message in the US is that everyone should be vaccinated against influenza.
Q: In terms of access to vaccines, what changes would you like to see?
A: People’s access is crucial for successful vaccination programmes. We want the population to have faster access to new and improved vaccines. We would like to see the procedures for access streamlined, while preserving the highest safety and quality standards. Today, to bring a vaccine to the market it typically takes 6.4 years after marketing authorisation is granted. This is mainly because each member state has to implement European decisions through a national recommendation system. It becomes a kind of postcode lottery on a country scale – the time it takes to get access to vaccines depends on which European country you live in. This is not acceptable any more.
Q: Is the wider economic climate having an effect on market access for vaccines?
A: Economic realities are moving faster than political realities, as we have seen with the global impact of the financial crisis. It is an extraordinary moment for our economies and we need to recognise that “business as usual” would consign us to a gradual decline, to the second rank of the new global order.
For us, the value of vaccines is clear – prevention is key to good health and good use of scarce resources. If diseases can be prevented then it reduces the number of visits to the doctor and hospitalisations, and the use of other healthcare resources including staff and medicines. Fewer episodes of illness also means fewer days missed from work and school. This is the way that we can add value to European citizens’ lives, to their productive participation in the economy, as well as to their contribution to society, while preserving the sustainability of healthcare sustainable for the individual citizens.
Q: What role can Vaccines Europe play in supporting European health priorities?
A: Vaccines Europe would like to be a trusted partner with stakeholders at national and EU levels and we are committed to helping authorities to address public health challenges. For example, we have an obvious role in combating the European response to health threats and pandemics.
Q: Are there some less obvious examples?
A: Yes, we also make a contribution in other ways, for example by helping to combat antimicrobial resistance – which is a top health priority at EU level. By preventing illnesses we can avoid health complications which might lead to hospitalisation. Not only does this reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) but fewer cases of flu complications, for example, would mean less use of antibiotics.
Q: What about broader economic and research policies?
A: Europe wants to be an ‘Innovation Union’ and we see a clear role for the vaccines sector in achieving this. Most of the world’s vaccine research and production is based in Europe –conducted by global companies. We need to maintain this leadership role in a sector which can provide high-quality employment. To do this Europe must create the right environment which means investing in research on the one hand and supporting greater acceptance of immunisation programmes on the other.
Q: Finally, the European Vaccine Manufactures (EVM) has now changed its name to Vaccines Europe. What prompted the change?
A: Vaccines Europe represents a highly innovative and diverse global industry with a strong position in Europe. We are exploring the option of expanding our membership to include small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in future. Along with established players in the vaccine sector which have a track record of innovation, smaller companies are an important source of fresh ideas, new jobs and economic growth in Europe.