Sibilia Quilici - 01 Dec 2022
We should not need a health crisis to remind us of the importance of vaccines and vaccination, their role in preserving economies, the functioning of the healthcare systems and ensuring people’s wellbeing.
And yet, this is precisely what the COVID-19 pandemic did, and it demonstrated that having a strong and innovative research-based pharmaceutical industry is crucial. Life-saving COVID-19 vaccines, using traditional and new technology platforms, are the result of decades of investment in research and development.
The pandemic also drew public attention to the complexity of the vaccine ecosystem, from developing high quality, safe and effective vaccines, to ensuring they reach people’s arms on time. Vaccines do not save lives, vaccination does.
COVID-19 is a stark reminder that we need to be prepared not only for what we already know, but the unknown as well. This is why today Vaccines Europe is launching the first pipeline review of its 15 members companies, with 100 vaccine candidates as of July 2022.
The review shows a promising pipeline aimed at tackling challenges of today and tomorrow, such as the burden of respiratory tract infections, AMR, the ageing of the population, climate change and zoonotic infections, through leveraging a broad array of new technology platforms. For example, 46% of the vaccine candidates target infections for which there are no existing vaccines today. Furthermore, 80% of the vaccine candidates target the adult population, reflecting the challenges ahead and the need for a paradigm shift towards a life-course approach to vaccination. COVID-19 vaccines are an exemplar of this change.
This pipeline is a profound testimony of the commitment of the vaccine industry to ensuring we all benefit from the significant value of vaccination to our society.
The key question is: Is Europe ready to welcome such a promising vaccines pipeline?
Currently, there is a low level of investment by EU Member States in their immunisation programmes, with a flat budget over the last 5 years, while new vaccines are becoming available. Today, a comprehensive routine immunisation programme can prevent about 20 life-threatening and debilitating infectious diseases and related cancers at every stage of life. However, 77% of the EU Member States spend less than 0.5% of their health-care budget on immunisation1,2, contributing to inequity in vaccine access across the EU, low uptake and vaccine hesitancy, notably for adolescent and adult immunisations.
Furthermore, there are disparities in market access to vaccines across Europe. The time to population access for vaccines exceeds 6 years in a third of EU Member States, and the procurement mechanism for vaccines in most EU member states doesn’t support fair competition, timely access to vaccines and sustainable supply. 3,4,5
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the devastating impact an infectious disease can have on the adult population. Children vaccination schedules are well established across Europe but this isn’t the case for adults. This lack of country readiness to prioritise and implement adult immunisation efficiently needs to be urgently addressed. Vaccines Europe calls for 4 actions to protect adults from vaccine-preventable diseases: 1) embedding adult immunisation in national immunisation programmes and ensuring sustainable funding; 2) increasing awareness of the benefits of adult vaccination among citizens and healthcare professionals; 3) improving access and convenience to immunisation for adults; and 4) establishing digital vaccination registries to improve vaccination coverage rates.
Vaccination is a hugely successful and cost-effective health prevention tool that helps tackle public health threats. Despite this, there is little attention given to primary prevention. We need to act now to ensure targets set in the European Beating Cancer Plan and the Immunization Agenda 2030 are met.
Vaccines Europe calls for early, open and continued dialogue, collaboration and coordination with all stakeholders to make Europe attractive to the innovative vaccine industry, ensure equity in access to vaccination to build resilient society and healthcare systems. It is crucial to account for vaccine specificities in the process of shaping Europe’s research ecosystem through the revision of the General Pharmaceutical Legislation.
#WeWontRest until people everywhere are free of vaccine-preventable diseases.
1 Faivre P et al (2021). Immunization funding across 28 European countries, Expert Rev Vaccines. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14760584.2021.1905257
5 Pasté M et al (2022) Addressing vaccine supply challenges in Europe: Expert industry perspective and recommendations, Health Policy. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0168851021002876