EU Immunisation Strategy: From Progress to Excellence 

The Value of Immunisation 

I began my work on life course immunisation (LCI) 10 years ago in 2014 helping to strengthen the LCI framework in Europe by defining what it means and initiating the first policy report on LCI in the EU. As a parent, daughter, and sister, I have experienced the profound impact of LCI. It’s not just about safeguarding ourselves, it’s about protecting our children, our parents and our loved ones. Now in winter, the urgency to shield at-risk groups, particularly the elderly, becomes paramount. 

Over the past 15 years, I’ve witnessed the pivotal role of vaccines in combating infectious diseases, driving investment in resilient health systems and contributing to the European economy. Recent outbreaks of MMR, H1N1, RSV and the resurgence of polio in Europe as well as the fact that many diseases remain for which there are no available vaccinations drives home the importance of continued R&D within the vaccine industry. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the indispensable role of a robust and research-driven vaccine industry, with Vaccines Europe members leading the charge in developing and disseminating critical COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.  

While Europe has been a hub for vaccine R&D and manufacturing, recent research paints a concerning picture in the EU: fewer biotechs are involved in vaccine research, with many moving to the US, declining shares in global vaccine clinical trials, and a loss in R&D over the past two decades. When vaccine innovation moves out of Europe, timely access to these innovations cannot be achieved. 

Today, as we approach the 2024 elections, it is more crucial than ever before to address these challenges and emphasize the critical role and value of immunisation. 

Addressing health challenges and disparities 

The public health challenges we face are not new. We, along with many others, warned of potential complications in the event of a health crisis long before the COVID-19 pandemic – warnings that proved necessary. The implementation of measures to combat COVID-19 were complex not due to a lack of knowledge but due to vaccine hesitancy, limitations in adult vaccination, regulatory pathways and other logistical hurdles. This is something that, with a clear and forward-looking EU immunisation strategy, we can prevent from reoccurring.  

Reflecting on these challenges and trends including geopolitical tensions, climate change, economic pressures, an ageing population and the rising threat of AMR, the need to address the low investment in healthcare budgets – less than 0.5% in some Member States – is clear. This financial commitment is not enough to ensure efficient, complete, and timely access to immunisation programs and, along with other contributors, leads to delays in access to vaccine innovations between EU member states. These delays are a serious cause for concern regarding equitable access to immunisation in the EU as well as the preparedness of EU member states against the next vaccine preventable health threat. We must work together to combat these issues to allow all EU citizens an equal chance of being protected against vaccine preventable diseases. 

Recent health crises have also put a spotlight on another concerning, but unfortunately not new, trend: a decline in vaccine confidence, especially among young people. Vaccine hesitancy is both a burden and a cost to society. We’ve witnessed the extent of this with COVID-19 but also with HPV, measles and even the flu. This continued downward spiral is a cause for alarm, considering the pivotal role young people play in shaping the future. It is also a personal concern as both a professional in this field and a parent. This decline in science literacy and trust in institutions compounds the challenges Europe is facing. Yet, amidst these interconnected challenges, strong immunisation policies stand as a linchpin for resilience and sustainability in our health systems.  

We must continue to collaborate and ensure engagement related to vaccine confidence remains high ahead rather than in the midst of health crises.  

2024 and Beyond 

The upcoming elections in June offer a unique opportunity to reverse these trajectories. We must stop reinventing the wheel and start focusing on what we know is important: keeping health, and more specifically public health prevention, high on the agenda and funded on the right level. The current Commission has engaged significantly in work on immunisation and initiatives aimed at strengthening cooperation between member states. Notably the Joint Action on Vaccination, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, the Council Recommendation on AMR and the upcoming Council Recommendation on vaccine-preventable cancers. However, immunisation is complex and it is imperative that we do not become complacent, maintaining a holistic view across the life course. Success to protect the people requires transparent and inclusive collaborative efforts. The next mandate is an opportunity to reinforce and strengthen this engagement, continuing what we have started and ensuring that these efforts and resources do not go to waste. The question now is – where do we want to be by the end of the next mandate in 2029?  

As Executive Director of Vaccines Europe, and looking at the challenges ahead, I hope to see Europe as a leader, setting a precedent for vaccine innovation toward health and prosperity.  

As an EU citizen, I hope to see a Europe that not only leads in vaccine innovation but collaborates across all Member States, ensuring equitable access so that all European citizens can access the benefits of vaccine breakthroughs.  

As a mother, daughter, and sister, I hope for a Europe where the safety and well-being of our loved ones is guaranteed through sustainable immunisation programs, fostering a generation free from vaccine-preventable diseases including measles, polio, cancer and one day, HIV.  

The time to act is now. The EU’s recent initiatives on strengthened cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases provide a groundwork upon which Europe and its Member States can build stronger immunisation policies. Prioritising and fortifying these policies can pave the way for transparent collaboration among stakeholders, equitable access across Member States, and ultimately, a healthier, more prosperous Europe. Vaccines stand as a testament to human innovation and the result of tireless dedication to science. They are not just shields against infectious disease but can be symbols of progress, supporting resilient healthcare systems, societies and economies. Let’s work together to ensure that our future is one where immunisation stands tall as a beacon of health and security for all.