COVID vaccine tracker should be applied to 40 other vaccines, says ECDC

The Covidtracker platform has tracked COVID-19 outbreak data since spring 2020. [Vasin Lee/Shutterstock]

EU countries need to further develop tracking tools to monitor vaccine rates, the director of the EU’s infectious disease agency (ECDC) said, amongst talks of centring the role of digital health in preventative care.

A good example of the benefit of data in health is the COVID tracker”, said ECDC director Andrea Ammon during a conference (7-9 February) on the importance of prevention in sustainable healthcare systems.

Aylin Tüzel, the country manager at Pfizer Deutschland, agreed that the pandemic has been a real opportunity to highlight the benefits of digital health, particularly online platforms that collect data on COVID, such as the Covidtracker website.

“For instance, in terms of vaccination coverage we know how many people are actually vaccinated in each age group,” Ammon said, adding that it was very difficult for other vaccines. 

Both supported the possibility that the Covidtracker website could be used as a tool to improve future vaccination campaigns. According to Tüzel, digital health could play an increased role in “the game of vaccination” – for example, sending reminder notifications to its users to get vaccinated.

“Vaccination rates are very low for other examples, such as the flu vaccine. Now the task is to translate this for the 40 other vaccines,” Ammon said. 

“The vaccination data register would be so valuable and useful. It is necessary to bring vaccination to people,” Tüzel agreed.

Vaccine trackers could have accelerated vaccination campaigns in Europe, where, as of 9 January, almost 70% of Europeans had completed their vaccination schedule. 

Taking the example of the digital COVID certificate, Ammon said it was a major step, “not necessarily for travelling but also for people to know what their health status in terms of vaccination is.”

Digital health also on Brussels’ agenda

In Brussels, health data is also at the heart of the political agenda. Sandra Gallina, the Commission’s director general for health, met with ministers on Wednesday (2 February) to establish ethical rules for digital health. 

During the meeting, organised under the French EU Presidency, French Health Minister Olivier Véran presented a series of measures to regulate the health data of European citizens.

These measures were validated in advance by the E-Health Network, created by the European directive on cross-border care. The COVID-19 digital certificate is one of the concrete examples of this body, which aims to digitise health data in Europe.

At the end of the informal meeting, Gallina said that the European Health Data Space marked “a new era” that would “strengthen people’s rights over their health data” and “support the re-use of health data in a safe and trusted way”.

Emphasis on prevention 

Along with digital health, Tüzel and Ammon also discussed the prevention of disease, future epidemics, and the lessons to be learned from the COVID pandemic. 

Tüzel noted a drop in vaccination rates since March 2020. “In Germany, 30% fewer vaccinations were executed in 2021”, she pointed out, which can be explained by greater difficulty in accessing health services, which she described as a real “burden” for patients. 

Ammon reported that the situation is similar almost everywhere in Europe, with States still coping with the aftermath. “Dropping vaccination rates, but also for diseases like tuberculosis, HIV, the treatment centres partly had to close because the staff were working on COVID,” she said. 

In Germany, 97% of the healthcare budget is spent on treatments, and a very small fraction is spent on prevention, according to Tüzel. 

“If we invest in the prevention of diseases it could prevent people from getting sick. Logically it would prevent governments from other health costs such as cares”, she added.

To illustrate the point, the ECDC Director explained that hand-washing was an essential gesture in daily life in the prevention of disease transmission, which shows how prevention doesn’t have to carry a big financial burden.

She added that everybody should do their part in preventative care, highlighting the responsibility of schools and employers. 

“The pandemic brought us a lot of tools, a lot of learnings as following the data on COVID-19 on a daily basis. These tools will be needed for certain diseases areas in terms of prevention. We have to carry it to the next level”, concluded Aylin Tüzel. 

Starting February COVID certificate valid for nine months

A new EU-wide rule enters into force on Tuesday (1 February), which will see the EU Digital COVID Certificate for the primary vaccine series be used for cross-border travel for a maximum of 270 days, equal to nine months.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna and Nathalie Weatherald]

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