Global Vaccination Summit: Questions & Answers

EU Code of Practice on Disinformation includes the distribution of vaccine content
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Europe (Vax Before Travel)

The European Commission has organized a Global Vaccination Summit on September 12, 2019, to give high-level visibility and political endorsement to the topic of vaccination, which is one of the most successful public health measures, saving millions of lives every year. 

In cooperation with the World Health Organisation (WHO), this event in Belgium aims at demonstrating European leadership for a global commitment to vaccinations, boosts political commitment towards eliminating vaccine-preventable diseases and engages various leaders in global action against the spread of vaccine misinformation.

The highlights of this Summit are excerpted below:

What are the benefits of vaccination?

  • Vaccination is one of the greatest successes of public health. Worldwide, it saves at least 2-3 million lives each year. Before vaccines were given, children often died young or became crippled for life.
  • Vaccines are a safe and effective way of protecting children and adults from serious illness and complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. They can prevent a disease from occurring in the first place, saving human suffering and reducing healthcare costs. 
  • Vaccines do not only protect the person vaccinated, but they also protect others, provided that 'herd immunity' is reached. 
  • Vaccination prevents 2.7 million people from contracting measles, 2 million from getting neonatal tetanus, and 1 million from getting pertussis (whooping cough) each year. 
  • Vaccinations have also led to the eradication of smallpox and the near elimination of polio. And, in Europe, seasonal flu vaccination prevents around 2 million people from getting the flu each year.

Are vaccines safe?

  • Yes, vaccines are safe. An extensive body of research has proven the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. The EU has very strict rules for the market authorization of vaccines. 
  • On average, it takes 12 to 15 years, including extensive clinical studies, to develop a vaccine. 
  • Once on the market, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) continues to supervise a vaccine's safety to detect, prevent, and communicate any adverse effects.

Are vaccine-preventable diseases increasing in the EU?

  • The surge in measles cases that began in 2018 has continued into 2019, with approximately 90,000 cases reported for the first half of the year in the WHO European region. This is already more than the number of cases recorded for the whole year of 2018 (84,462).
  • At the end of 2018, four European countries lost their measles elimination status.
  • Seasonal flu vaccination coverage in older age groups has also decreased in the past few years in the majority of EU countries, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) estimates that 40,000 people in Europe – many of whom are elderly – die prematurely from complications from seasonal flu every year.

What are the key drivers of decreasing vaccination coverage?

  • There are several reasons for decreasing vaccination coverage, including challenges related to the access to and the organization of vaccine services.
  • Another important reason is vaccine hesitancy. Misconceptions about vaccination have shifted the public focus away from the benefits of vaccination, towards distrust in science and fear of possible side effects. 
  • While routine vaccination has led to a sharp reduction in vaccine-preventable diseases, it has also led to the severity of such diseases frequently being under-estimated by citizens and healthcare workers alike.
  • Decreasing vaccine confidence, an increasing number of deaths, and growing cases of vaccine-preventable diseases have led the WHO to declare vaccine hesitancy as one of the main threats to global health for 2019.
  • The EU has among the lowest confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines worldwide. 
  • Almost half of the EU public believes that vaccines can often produce serious side effects. 38% think they can cause the diseases against which they protect, and 31% are convinced that they can weaken the immune system.
  • For example, in France, about 30% of people believe vaccines to be unsafe.
  • Another important reason is the variation of vaccination policies and schedules between EU countries, which can be a particular obstacle to people who move between several EU countries during their lives. 
  • Variation related to the timing of vaccines and the number of doses, for example, can cause confusion, and this can result in children not getting all the vaccines they need. 
  • Different vaccination policies between countries can also lead to the perception that there are differences in opinion on the vaccines themselves.
  • Other factors that play a role in immunization gaps include vaccine shortages, challenges related to the research and development for new and existing vaccines, including unpredictable demand and insufficient motivation for industry to make the necessary investments in terms of financing and expertise, and constraints linked to public financing.

Is disinformation a determinant for lower vaccine coverage?

  • Yes. The exposure of citizens to large-scale disinformation, including misleading or outright false information, is a major challenge for Europe. Disinformation is amplified by modern technology and the rapid spread of content on the internet.
  • Fighting disinformation has to be a coordinated effort involving institutions, social platforms, the media, and citizens. The European Commission is taking action to address online disinformation. 
  • In 2018, it invited social media platforms to subscribe to a Code of Practice on Disinformation, which commits them to enable monitoring of online disinformation, including on vaccines.

What are the EU recent actions regarding vaccination?

  • Following the Council Recommendation adopted in December 2018, several actions have already been implemented, including the Coalition for Vaccination and the Joint Procurement of pandemic influenza vaccine, and others are on track. 
  • This includes the development of a common vaccination card, the support to research and innovation for the development of new vaccines, and the establishment of a European Vaccination Information Sharing System.

Published by Precision Vaccinations


Article by
Dani Reiter