Vaccines Europe - 14 Oct 2022
Hybrid event, 25 October 2022, 16.00-17.30 CET
The burden of cancer in the EU is high and rising. Cancer causes 1 in 4 deaths and is the second leading cause of death, illness, and disability in many EU countries. Approximately 13% of cancers diagnosed globally in 2018 were attributed to carcinogenic infections, such as viruses and bacteria. In Europe, there are about 53,000 new cervical cancer cases annually that are attributed to HPV infection and there are estimates of more than 60,000 deaths annually due to liver cancer, of which Hepatitis B is a risk factor. Both infections can be prevented by vaccines.
On 25 October 2022, 16:00-17:30 CET, Vaccines Europe hosted “Beating Cancer through prevention: A call for action on vaccine-preventable cancers across Europe”. This hybrid event brought together policymakers and key EU and national stakeholders to discuss how to increase awareness of the inclusion of vaccine-preventable cancers in the BECA report and the EBCP implementation roadmap in all Member States.
Hosted by MEP Nicolás González Casares (S&D, Spain) and organised by Vaccines Europe, the event Beating Cancer through prevention: A call for action on vaccine-preventable cancers across Europe took place on 25 October 2022 at the European Parliament, featuring EU and national stakeholders who led a constructive discussion on the most effective ways to raise awareness on vaccine-preventable cancers.
The panellists exchanged views on the urgent need to incentivise more action on promoting vaccination against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B virus (HBV), significantly improving data collection and addressing existing challenges and opportunities at the EU and Member State level. The discussion also involved sharing best practices and ideas for new strategies that reflect the goals of the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and make use of available EU funding instruments.
Opening the event, MEP Nicolás González Casares (S&D, Spain) stressed the importance of not missing the powerful opportunity to use vaccination as a tool against HPV and HBV across Europe. A good example comes from Spain where, starting in 2023, mandatory HPV vaccination will be extended to boys. MEP Casares encouraged policymakers to take a range of actions at the European and national levels, such as promoting greater awareness of vaccination coverage, fostering consistency and data collection through national plans, and improving accessibility to early cancer screening.
On the other hand, Ivana Dragojević, Board member of the European Liver Patients’ Association (ELPA), presented the perspective of cancer patients. She described the current challenges of fighting vaccine-preventable liver cancers, such as those largely caused by the Hepatitis B virus. Indeed, this virus has not yet been eliminated in Europe, as only 11 out of 22 countries have met the WHO goal of achieving 95% vaccination coverage by 2020. While suggesting a much-needed upscale of HPV and HBV vaccination rates, Ms Dragojević encouraged Member States to put in place stronger national strategies, enhancing safety measures in personal care settings and establishing constant communication with patients.
The ongoing discussion then featured a contribution from Prof. Dr. Giovanni Gabutti, Coordinator of the National Workgroup “Vaccines and Immunization Policies” of the Italian Scientific Society of Hygiene, Preventive Medicine and Public Health, who presented a national best practice case study on HPV from Italy. Although an increase in vaccination coverage has been observed from 2007 to 2019, the target for both males and females has not been achieved in any region of the country.
Prof. Dr. Gabutti noted that maintaining the right to free vaccination, favoring vaccine co-administration techniques and supporting partnerships between health care providers could be viable solutions.
Good practices pursued by Italy were also shared by Letizia Moratti, Vice President and Councilor for Welfare of Lombardy Region. Ms. Moratti shared the actions taken so far at the regional level and its future goals, emphasising the region’s commitment to expand free access to HPV vaccination and to generally offer HPV vaccines at a fair price. In addition, Lombardy Region is working on awareness and information campaigns, promoting regular cancer screening programmes for cevical cancer.
Sibilia Quilici of Vaccines Europe remarked that vaccination is the only intervention that can prevent these two cancers. From an industry perspective, there is difficulty in accessing enough data and there is a need to invest in better infrastructures at national level. The timely monitoring of infection rates and vaccination coverage put in place with Covid-19 can be taken as a learning example. On the other hand, the lack of funding and government reimbursement are also some of the hurdles.
The urgent need to address low vaccination coverage rates was also stressed by Prof. Dr. Med Thomas Seufferlein of the German Cancer Society. He proposed addressing the general skepticism toward vaccination by targeting young people through new communication tools, enabling them to become advocates for their own health. In addition, he argued that vaccination programmes and campaigns should also be adapted to minorities.
In response, Charles Howard, Research Manager of ThinkYoung, presented the views of younger people on the issue of vaccination. He stressed the importance of building a dialogue and including young people in the decision-making process.
Mike Morrissey, CEO of the European Cancer Organisation, backed the importance of the European Commission’s Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, expressing his concern about low HPV/HBV vaccination rates across the bloc. He argued that Member States should put more effort into investing in HPV vaccination, which is easier and cheaper than dealing with its consequences. It is also important to share real-life stories and encourage community networking.
The European Commission contributed to the debate by stating that Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is a key priority in public health. The Commission supports Member States in extending vaccination for girls and boys against HPV and HBV and commits to facilitate vaccination access through funding.
In conclusion, the possibility of eliminating HPV- and HBV-related cancer in the future was strongly supported by participants, who reiterated the collective responsibility to deliver clear messages, increase funding methods, and improve health infrastructure.
At the end of the event, participants were also invited to sign a Call to Action launched by Vaccines Europe and encouraging policymakers at EU and state level to adopt 8 policy actions to prevent cancer through vaccination.
Call to action
We call for the EU and all Member States to take immediate action towards fulfilling the goal of eliminating vaccine-preventable cancers. If you would like to support this call to action, please fill in this Google Form.