03 June 2016
On the 24th May 2016, the Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) organised a meeting hosted by UK MEP Mrs Julie Girling at the European Parliament in Brussels entitled, ‘Life Course Vaccination: From Babyhood to Healthy Ageing – What are the Priorities?’ The meeting was attended by individuals involved in the fields of healthcare, vaccines and healthy ageing, as well as Members of European Parliament (MEPs) and their assistants.
The meeting was opened by Mrs Girling and chaired by CoMO President, Chris Head, who began the session of presentations by discussing the importance of representing the diverse patient stories from meningitis survivors and families of those affected by the disease who wish to promote vaccination and raise awareness. Life Course Immunisation is an initiative promoted by CoMO, in partnership with others, to support healthy ageing and access to vaccinations at all stages of life. We are motivated by the fact that anyone can develop meningitis and septicaemia at any age and therefore vaccines should be accessible to all.
Key speakers drew on their experience from organisations relating to healthcare and ageing to give their views on various issues surrounding vaccine uptake in Europe. A common theme in the presentations was the threat of vaccine preventable diseases and the burden of diseases to populations. Chris Head discussed the risk of the infections that can cross borders and why we should consider the risk of ‘not vaccinating’. This view was reiterated by professionals from medical backgrounds who voiced their concern about the risk of epidemics and the after-effects of infectious diseases, such as disability and hospitalisation, which can place a burden on society. David Sinclair, Director of the International Longevity Centre, UK (ILCUK), commented on the cost effectiveness of investing in vaccinations for all ages to minimise disease related costs. The increase of ageing populations is a factor that must be considered when protecting all members of society.
Our expert panel included scientific experts from a number of universities, members of CoMO’s Scientific Advisory Group, as well as representatives from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and from the Directorate General for Health and Food (DGSanté). The expert panel discussion, moderated by Professor David Salisbury CB, featured the perception of vaccines from the public and healthcare perspective. There was a growing concern about the lack of trust surrounding immunisation, with suggestions to increase awareness campaigns that could further educate healthcare professionals and the public. Introducing wider awareness programmes could be instrumental in educating medical professionals and patients about the risk of infectious diseases, as well as encouraging healthcare workers to suggest vaccinations to patients at all stages of life. Furthermore, Lale Osizik from Haceteppe University in Ankara, Turkey, stated the importance of vaccinating healthcare professionals who could potentially increase the spread of infectious diseases, as well as placing a burden on medical institutions when taking time off due to sickness.
Suggestions surrounding improving vaccine uptake continued as many speakers noted the disparities in this area, both between and within European Member States. Increased collaboration and coordination regarding vaccination calendars and awareness campaigns were encouraged in order to reduce inequalities relating to accessibility and affordability. Peggy Maguire, Director General of the European Institute of Women’s Health (EIWH), voiced her opinion on the role of women in immunising themselves and their children. Whilst all agreed that fathers also play a key role in the health of the child, it is frequently the mothers who take the lead role in organising vaccinations for their children and this should be considered when educating the public on the risks of foregoing immunisation. In addition to the role of women, Ms Maguire touched on the topic of anti-microbial resistance and the essential role of vaccination in combating this increasingly urgent issue.
A key point in the meeting was the commitment from French MEP, Madame Francoise Grossetête, delivered by her parliamentary assistant, M Remy Petitot, to draft a resolution that would follow on from the 2014 commitment to a European Vaccine Resolution. This resolution would align common vaccination plans, address the public health issue of infectious diseases and vaccine shortages, as well as raise awareness across Europe and the World of the risk of not vaccinating. It is hoped that the resolution will be drafted in the Autumn of 2016. Professor David Salisbury CB praised the commitment to a resolution and encouraged the transition from ‘enthusiastic advocacy to effective strategy’.
It is clear that there is a need for increased collaboration between key stakeholders in order to effectively coordinate future plans that will reduce the impact and prevalence of infectious diseases in Europe. CoMO President, Chris Head, echoed the need for partnership by stating CoMO’s ‘Change Equation’, which combines patient advocates, health experts and key opinion leaders to create an ‘opportunity for change’.
Europe is a global hub for vaccine production and therefore has the capacity to commit to a collective effort to improve the disparities in vaccine uptake, use of vaccines, and awareness of vaccine preventable diseases between and within member states. There were further suggestions for increased data collection and transparency in order to gain a more informed overview of the contrasting immunisation uptake rates in European countries and communities. Mrs Julie Girling MEP stated her desire for further dialogue and ongoing participation in order to create progression and change. It is hoped that the proposed resolution and ongoing partnerships will result in key opportunities for change in relation to vaccinations for all people of all ages and backgrounds within Europe.