EU Flu Day 2021 - "One voice to protect populations from flu in the age of COVID-19”

Webinar, 14 October 2021, 10.00 CET

Hosted by MEP Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain) and the Steering Group on Influenza Vaccination, the webinar One voice to protect populations from flu in the age of COVID-19 brought together key stakeholders in the area of vaccination to mark the second annual EU Flu Day. Speakers shared their perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic’s spill-over effects on influenza vaccination, and what needs to be done to protect European populations and healthcare systems in the upcoming influenza season.

Ber Oomen, Executive Director, European Specialist Nurses Organisation (ESNO) welcomed the audience on behalf of the Steering Group on Influenza Vaccination – a group of academics, scientists, healthcare workers and civic society, advocating for increased flu vaccine uptake in Europe.

MEP Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain), who is also a co-chair of the Steering Group on Influenza Vaccination, looked back at last year’s EU Flu Day which took place before there were even any COVID-19 vaccines developed. She pointed out that last year’s high flu vaccination coverage was achieved thanks to the great collaboration between all the stakeholders in terms of planning and roll-out of flu vaccination programmes, as well as strong public communication campaigns. “I believe that we should continue working on the collaboration and the synergies between different stakeholders in the fight against flu”, she said.

“On EU Flu Day, it is important to stress why we vaccinate”, stated Albert Osterhaus, Chair, European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI). He gave a presentation covering the scientific perspective of the impact of COVID-19 on influenza and influenza vaccination, including by presenting the status in the southern hemisphere where there was little to no circulation of influenza virus in the last season, because of the COVID-19 mitigation measures. Because of the lockdowns, people were not exposed to influenza, and the herd immunity towards influenza went down.

Pasi Penttinen, Principal Expert Coronavirus and Influenza, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) highlighted the need to focus on both the potential severe influenza season and the continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the low or sub-optimal vaccination coverage in in many countries. Richard Pebody, Team lead, High Threat Pathogens, Infectious Hazard Management, WHO Regional Office for Europe stated that the WHO is pushing for the development of an integrated monitoring system for influenza and COVID-19.

Sibilia Quilici, Executive Director, Vaccines Europe mentioned that there is a lot of promising work going on within the industry in terms of vaccine innovation. David Sinclair, Director, International Longevity Center UK (ILC UK) raised an important point about the benefit in investing in prevention of influenza, as keeping the population healthy also has economic benefits by keeping people at work.

Emilie Karafillakis, European Research Lead, Vaccine Confidence Project stressed the importance of building vaccine confidence among healthcare professionals. Furthermore, she noted that different communications strategies have led to different results in in different countries. There are some strategies that work very well in some countries, but others that can worsen the situation especially among the most hesitant part of the population.   

MEP Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain) concluded by encouraging her colleagues in the European Parliament to help amplify the EU Flu Day campaign to ensure it reaches capitals and citizens in all Member States, and called on the European Commission to take the outcomes of the discussion into account when leading the way towards higher flu vaccination uptake in Europe.