"Anyone can get meningitis therefore Everyone has the right to access prevention and treatment"

Stories from members show the truth of this statement – from 6months to 62years, lives have been shattered. So when the World Health Organisation (WHO) spoke of a life-course approach in their 2011-2020 Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP), CoMO could only agree.

The 94 Member States of the Sixty-fifth World Health Assembly endorsed the GVAP as the framework for implementation of its vision of a Decade of Vaccines. The Assembly requested WHO regional offices to translate GVAP into regional plans, and WHO Europe have responded with the “European Vaccine Action Plan 2015–2020” (EVAP) plan.

Belief persists that infectious diseases are a phenomenon of childhood, however diseases such as meningococcal meningitis and septicaemiapneumococcal meningitis and pneumonia, and viral infections such as mumps and measles place a significant burden on individuals of all ages. Thus, maintaining high immunisation rates across all age groups is essential to protect the population, and while childhood vaccination is well recognised, adult vaccination remains an underused public health strategy.

The CoMO life-course immunisation initiative was launched on World Meningitis Day April 2015 during the WHO European Immunisation Week, the theme of which was the need for renewed commitment to immunisation at political, professional and personal levels. Our aim with this initiative is to remind organisations, healthcare professionals and governments around the world that it’s not just babies and children that get meningitis – adolescents and adults get it too.

And to remind them also that there are vaccines available against the bacteria and viruses that can cause meningitis and its associated condition, septicaemia – vaccines such as those against meningococcal disease, invasive pneumococcal disease, Haemophilus influenza type b, and against the viruses causing measles and mumps, which can also cause meningitis.

CoMO has begun its campaign by joining forces with likeminded organisations in Europe and globally; the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) and with them the Hacettepe University, Ankara, Turkey. At the Adult Immunization Advocacy Summit, recently convened by IFA in collaboration with CoMO and Hacettepe University, delegates from multi-disciplinary groups encompassing public health, single disease, age and gender-focussed organisations, along with healthcare professionals, from 11 European countries discussed how life course vaccination, including adult vaccination and healthy ageing, can be brought into the public and political debate. 

The discussion contributed to a better understanding of the current situation of adult vaccination policies and practices in the European Union and specific countries in the region, and also to a better understanding of the value of a civil society coalition that works in tandem with scientists to promote a life-course approach to vaccinations. In line with this, delegates agreed to the need for an across-discipline strategy. 

CoMO is pleased to be part of this coalition as our own philosophy is to bring together people advocates, healthcare professionals and policy makers in our “change equation”, believing that when all of these stakeholders are in dialogue there are opportunities for change.  

Traditionally, initiatives for change have focussed on engaging health professionals and researchers with policy makers, and personal experiences have often been overlooked, yet these are a powerful part of the equation and an equally important component for making change come about at the top. By uniting all of these groups, a more compelling argument for change can be made.

In support of this approach to advocacy, CoMO’s next action is to arrange a meeting in the European Parliament that will bring together all of the players in the change equation, to draw attention to the need for a life-course approach to vaccination. With changes to the European demographics, access to key vaccines must go beyond childhood, through adolescence into adulthood, and be seen as a vital part of healthy ageing. With the publishing of the Council Conclusions on Vaccinations as an Effective Tool in Public Health, and the recent written declarations on vaccine campaigns and childhood vaccinations that gathered 124 and 122 signatures of MEPs respectively, the time is right for civil society intervention.

A well-attended parliamentary meeting with the objective of supporting a resolution on vaccination in the European Parliament coupled with advocacy around the need for a joint action between the European Commission and Member States will move forward CoMO’s desire to see vaccines against meningitis available to all who need them and aid our mission to see a world free from meningitis.

For more information on the Life-Course Initiative please get in touch with our team by emailing info@comomeningitis.org