EPHA’s new report on Access to Childhood Vaccination emphasises the importance of ensuring free and equal access to immunisation for all children in Europe no matter their legal or economic status. Issues pertaining to access to vaccinations were also stressed at the first Science-Policy Flu Summit organised by EPHA members the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza (ESWI).
The report discusses the barriers to parents being fully informed and able to ensure their children are protected from contagious diseases, some of which have increased in prevalence in recent years. Immunisation has become more imperative in light of recent infectious disease outbreaks, including potentially fatal diseases such as measles. At the same time, there are increased numbers of refugee families seeking safety in Europe who many experience barriers to even basic health services, combined with austerity measures which are in practice restricting access for some families.
In the interest of public health, respect for basic human rights and social inclusion, there is a need for unconditional access to essential childhood vaccinations. Without increasing the uptake of vaccination and other measures to achieve universal access to healthcare, the Sustainable Development Goal for health (SDG3) cannot be realised.
In terms of concrete steps to be taken at European and national level, the report proposes a range of measures which are complementary to the recommendations of the Council Conclusions on vaccinations as an effective tool in public health, drafted under the Italian Presidency in December 2014. For example, EPHA proposes that the principle of universal access to vaccination should be integrated into policies aimed at groups facing multiple vulnerabilities, such as Roma integration strategies and the European Agenda on Migration, in coordination with the Fundamental Rights Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The European Commission should support evidence-based policies on vaccination and highlight its cost effectiveness and benefits across the life course. Vaccination messages need to be consistent, clear and coherent (EU, national and international level) to build up trust and to address various concerns about the safety, effectiveness and societal value of childhood immunisation and tackle
’vaccine hesitancy’. The full report on Access to Childhood Vaccination is available here.
On 30 September 2015, EPHA Board member Peggy Maguire of the European Institute of Women’s Health spoke at the Science-Policy Flu Summit organised by EPHA members the European Scientific Working Group on Influenza in Brussels. The event provided a timely opportunity to promote messages about enabling better access to vaccination for people facing multiple health vulnerabilities including children.
EPHA’s contribution focused on health equality, sustainable access to vaccines, and the potential of joint procurement, stressing that the social gradient also applies to vaccinations, and that vulnerable groups including migrants, Roma communities, and destitute families require better options to access vaccinations free of charge.
The importance of health literacy, strategic communication and trust to address vaccine hesitancy was discussed, in particular education on the risks of non-immunisation to public health. Mrs Maguire stressed that women play a particular important role as mothers and ’health managers’ of families, but often they are difficult to reach due to persisting gender inequalities.