What first comes to mind when you think of the relationship between the European Union and its Member States? Undoubtedly a great many things, but is health one of them? For us here at CoMO, one of the most important things about the relationship between the EU and its Member States is health, and specifically vaccination against deadly infectious diseases, like meningitis and septicaemia.
Health is a hugely important topic because it affects each and every one of us. The quality of our health and our loved ones’ health determines how we shape our lives. Clearly, the importance of our health should not be underestimated. Did you realise though, that the European Parliament does not have health as one of its competencies? In other words, policies regarding health and vaccination are the responsibility of individual Member States themselves.
So, what does this mean? Primarily it means the EU cannot dictate how Member States organise their national immunisation schedules, or how much, for example, a teenage vaccine against meningitis should cost. This all leads onto the fact that there are currently massive health discrepancies between EU Member States.
Let’s get one thing straight-CoMO is not trying to tell the EU how exactly it should operate. Instead, we want to encourage Member States to recognise the benefit of cooperating together more fully, so that health policies can be coordinated. This will lead to greater health equality between Member States of the EU, surely something to be desired? We certainly believe it is, because meningitis can strike anyone, at any age, anywhere.
The health inequalities between different EU Member States may be very wide, but they are also resolvable. CoMO wants to help EU Member States to share and discuss their best practises regarding health and to work together to coordinate their national immunisation schedules, because this will help reduce the health inequalities currently seen between EU Member States.
Did you know that the price for any one vaccination varies considerably between different EU countries? For example, to get a vaccination against shingles in The Netherlands you could pay around €48 (£35), whilst in Germany you could pay up to €176 (£129) compared with the UK where shingles vaccination is free on the NHS for all 70 year olds. Since we’re all part of the same Union, why should these inequalities persist?
The price of vaccination isn’t the only health difference between Member States, the availability of any one vaccination varies too. For example, the new MenB vaccine has been licensed in Europe since the beginning of 2013, however it is only available in a minority of EU countries. In Spain, the MenB vaccine became available in pharmacies from 1st October 2015, which thankfully ensured that Spanish residents no longer have to travel to neighbouring Portugal for the vaccine. However, this situation is still occurring in The Netherlands (where MenB is not available), with Dutch citizens travelling to Germany for this vaccine. Again, in the UK the MenB vaccination is offered free to babies on the NHS.
Why so many inconsistencies? We at CoMO do not think this is fair or necessary.
Overall, the problem is that national immunisation schedules vary greatly between each EU Member State. For example, Austria has a quasi-life-course approach to pneumococcal disease vaccinations, whereas Croatia does not recommend any pneumococcal disease vaccinations for any age. Also, Denmark only recommends whooping cough vaccinations for the early years’ age category, whereas in Germany there is a life-course approach to such vaccinations.
We want to resolve these health inequalities between Member States and so do a prominent number of MEPs. CoMO strongly believes that the way to resolve such health discrepancies is for all EU Member States to adopt a life-course approach to vaccination. If Member States were to take such an approach, then all ages in society would be protected from the threat of meningitis and septicaemia, and other deadly diseases; such an approch would also mean that we would not have to fear for the most vulnerable in our societies.
If you, like us, believe that it is time for health inequalities between EU Member States to be resolved, then please join our campaign by writing to your local MEP asking them to sign the Written Declaration on Vaccination Campaigns. CoMO is campaigning for the EU to take a life-course approach to vaccination and, with your support, we can help Member States to recognise the benefit of cooperating and coordinating their health policies through the life-course immunisation initiative.
Meningitis is not selective, so let’s make sure that we stand in solidarity against it.
Anecdotal Evidence from CoMO Governing Council Members
Natalie is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham, where she studied International Relations with French. She has particular expertise in the international political economy and its relation with international healthcare organisations. She is an intern at CoMO, where she is currently working on the Life-Course Immunisation Initiative.