On 1 December 2014, the Council of Health Ministers released its conclusions regarding vaccinations as an effective tool in public health. They invite national governments and the European Commission (EC) to increase information exchanges with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to focus on risk groups, and convey informed and clear messages on vaccination.
The EPSCO conclusions adopted under the Italian Presidency - which follow the high-level ’The state of health of vaccination’ conference organised in early November in Rome and attended by EPHA - call for the following measures to be taken at EU level:
Encouraging synergies between promotion of immunisation and preparedness and coordination in health emergencies
Channelling EU funds into current and future vaccine research
Funding support for post-marketing studies, including on vaccine effectiveness and on the impact of national immunisation programmes
Cooperation between the EC, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), ECDC and the WHO on identifying guidance and methodologies for Member States (MS) to strengthen consistency and sustainability of national vaccination programmes, and research methods for assessing effectiveness of risk communication & social attitudes
Providing MS with technological & IT tools to strengthen vaccination as an effective tool in public health
Developing co-financed joint action programmes (EC & MS)
Conveying informed and clear messages on vaccinations across Europe
Exchanges of data on vaccination coverage for all target risk groups
While vaccination programmes are the responsibility of national governments, they are encouraged to work with health professionals on risk communication in order to maximise their role in informed decision-making, and to better inform the population to raise trust in such programmes. Health professionals and medical students should also be equipped with better immunology and vaccinology knowledge via better training. Governments are asked to improve epidemiological surveillance, improve national programmes, and strengthen capacities to carry out evidence-based, cost-effective vaccination, including the introduction of new vaccines. Governments should also ensure transparency of the post-marketing evaluations of vaccines and of studies on the impact of vaccination programmes while actively offering appropriate vaccination to at-risk groups, and offering immunisation beyond infancy and early childhood by taking a life-course approach to vaccination.
The Council invites both the Commission and governments to continue exchanging data with the ECDC and the WHO on the risks posed by communicable diseases and on national vaccination policies, as well as on vaccination coverage for all target groups, developing joint action programmes co-financed by the EC and MS to share best practices on national vaccination policies. Ministers also highlighted the importance of clear messaging and fostering research and innovation on vaccines.
The Council Conclusions contribute to a clearer dialogue between governments and the Commission on innovation, information and surveillance, as well as new and wider vaccination programmes. Working closely with ECDC, EMA and the WHO is crucial for gathering expert insight, contributing to an increase in coverage and a better spectrum of inclusion and cross-border healthcare. Training and education is of major importance and Member States need to ensure professionals know about and promote vaccination.
However, the Conclusions are missing a stronger emphasis on health inequalities and in ensuring easier access to vaccination without any discrimination or cost restrictions. This is particularly relevant for vulnerable groups such as migrants, the homeless, Roma communities, etc. More inclusive coverage could be achieved, for example, by investing in mobile medical units to reach groups without access to mainstream healthcare. It is also important to develop health literacy about vaccination, to address concerns and the fears of ’vaccine hesitant’ communities, particularly when it comes to potential side effects.