The flurry of policy announcements and initiatives strengthening Member State cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases announced last week mark a new release of political energy that stands to reduce one of today’s greatest challenges – European citizens’ hesitancy to vaccinate themselves and their children.
Although Europe is at the heart of global vaccine research and production (more than 80% of the world’s vaccines are produced in and exported from Europe), the European region has the highest degree of vaccine hesitancy in the world, according to the WHO. This reluctance is costing lives and allowing some diseases, previously labelled ‘under control’, to resurge to worrying levels. Testament to this is the ECDC’s latest Communicable Diseases Threat Report citing nearly 19,000 new cases of measles and 49 related deaths since 1 January 2017.
Europe is now in a critical situation, with myths and misperceptions about vaccines having detrimental effects on public health that are set to increase without decisive EU-wide action.
Concerns over safety are deemed to be the greatest driver for not vaccinating, coupled with a false perception that some infectious diseases are low risk. When it comes to Influenza vaccination, questions of efficacy come into play with the media amplifying the relatively poor performance of the flu vaccine in recent seasons.
The series of recommendations issued by the European Commission aim to boost cooperation amongst Member States. They include important coverage targets, calls to align vaccination schedules, and a proposal for the creation of a multi-disciplinary Coalition for Vaccination.
European leadership in immunisation is fitting and augments Europe’s existing leading role in tackling antimicrobial resistance.
The activity follows Commission President Juncker‘s call, in his 2017 State of the Union address, for action to increase vaccination coverage and to ensure that everyone in the EU has access to vaccines. These efforts demonstrate the power of the Union and its collective power to drive positive change. The Commission plans to assess implementation progress every 3 years and to publish a report called “The State of Confidence in Vaccines in the EU” – watch this space.
In the words of EU Health Commissioner Andriukaitis: “Protect our children, vaccinate!”