BRUSSELS, 21 JANUARY 2020: At an event held in the European Parliament today, policymakers noted the lack of progress made by EU Member States towards the EU’s 75% target for seasonal influenza vaccination coverage rates among older-age and at-risk groups[i], first adopted in the EU Council Recommendation on seasonal influenza vaccination in 2009.[ii]
Speakers from the European Commission, European Parliament, European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) all agreed on the need to seize the opportunity presented by the 10-year milestone of the 2009 Recommendation to renew efforts to boost coverage rates and address the major public health challenges associated with seasonal influenza.
Building on a new study on public perceptions of seasonal influenza disease and vaccination in four EU countries[iii] and leveraging some national best practices, panellists stressed the need for all influenza stakeholders to gather in simultaneously addressing influenza vaccine confidence, convenience and complacency issues.
Potential solutions were discussed and identified, which would help addressing specific challenges and make progress towards the ten-year-old 75% seasonal influenza vaccination target, such as:
- Voluntary exchange of best practices between EU countries on how to increase seasonal influenza vaccination rates. This could be done as part of the EU State of Health initiative cycle.[iv] Following the publication of Country Health Profiles 2019, the European Commission could establish voluntary exchanges between EU countries, in particular focusing on seasonal influenza vaccination policies and programmes[v].
- EU guidance on data collection for seasonal influenza vaccine coverage rates. This should cover what should be collected, when and how. Currently, data is collected differently and at different times in various EU Member States, which creates an uneven and patchy picture across the EU. An EU Guidance on data collection will allow to monitor whether the EU’s 75% target has been met in all at risk or targeted groups as well as propose appropriate measures to achieve it.
- Measures to allow all competent healthcare professionals to provide vaccination in convenient locations. For example, by allowing vaccine administration in locations such as workplaces, community pharmacies and schools. Evidence shows that in countries where pharmacists can administer vaccines, the number of people vaccinated increases.[vi] The EU has a role to play in sharing best practices and providing guidance, and EU Member States will need to introduce appropriate legislations and policies to implement these practices.
- Further work by EU Member States, as well as the EU and WHO, needs to improve knowledge/education of and confidence in, vaccines among both citizens and healthcare professionals. In some countries, as many as 36.4% of GPs do not believe that the seasonal influenza vaccination is important, and elsewhere the percentage of the general public who believe that it is important is as low as 40.4%. Countries such as Spain and Portugal showcase best practices, with public confidence rates of almost 80%.[vii]
- All influenza actors should join forces in, for example, a multi-stakeholder coalition[viii], and launch an European Influenza Awareness Day, that would help to boost influenza vaccination confidence.
MEP Dolors Montserrat (EPP, ES), co-host of the event and former Spanish Health Minister, said that “to progress towards a broader vaccination coverage, especially for people with chronic diseases, we need to:
- Raise awareness among healthcare professionals, and policy makers on the problem to build trust in institutions and providers of vaccines;
- Empower patients to be correctly informed and participate in the decision making process on the adequate and most cost-effective therapies for their health;
- Fight the fake news and the misinformation campaigns through promoting sources of reliable information about vaccination, exposure to positive media messages.”
“The EU has given vaccination a lot of political attention recently – not least through the 2018 Council Recommendation on Strengthened Cooperation Against Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, the EU Joint Action on Vaccination, and the 2019 Global Vaccination Summit. But dwindling seasonal influenza vaccination coverage rates show that much more needs to be done – both at EU and national level” said Magdalena R. de Azero, Executive Director of Vaccines Europe, which organised the event. Ms de Azero concluded: “This event underlines the need for institutions, governments, healthcare professionals and industry to work together to address this challenge.”
Seasonal influenza poses a significant but often under-recognised challenge to EU health systems. Compared to other infectious diseases, it has the highest impact in terms of mortality and incidence and is estimated to cause up to 70,000 deaths in the EU each year, particularly among older age groups.[ix][x] Its impact is particularly acute among the elderly and other at-risk groups.
Latest EU data (2017, published in 2019) shows that no EU Member State has reached the 75% target for coverage rates. In fact, many countries have seen rates decline, some going as low as single digits (Latvia 6.9%, Estonia 4.8%). The best-in-class EU country, the UK, has seen rates consistently around 70% in recent years (currently 72.6%).[xi]
About Vaccines Europe
Formed in 1991, Vaccines Europe is a specialised group of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) that represents major innovative research-based vaccine companies as well as small and medium-sized enterprises operating in Europe which account for a large share of human vaccines used worldwide.
Ms. Magdalena R. De Azero
Vaccines Europe Executive Director
[iii] Full study to be published in the near future. Presented by Professor Frederic Bouder of the University of Stavanger.