EU health chief: Time for scientists to be heard under new vaccination proposals

Andriukaitis: "We proposed specific and clear tools to strengthen and establish our platform, which can be open to scientific opinions." [Sarantis Michalopoulos]

This article is part of our special report Vaccination: Raising awareness against fake news.

With the European Commission’s new vaccination proposals, scientists have a good opportunity to join forces and use IT tools to explain their scientific opinions to people, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis told in an interview.

The Commission issued a series of recommendations on 26 April aiming to boost cooperation among member states in the vaccines field.

The objective is to combat vaccine-preventable diseases, which claim the lives of up to 3 million people every year.

The EU executive wants national governments to come up with national and/or regional vaccination plans by 2020, including a target of at least 95% vaccination coverage for measles.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published on 23 April new data about measles outbreaks in Europe, pointing out measles vaccination gaps among teenagers and young adults.

The data showed that up to 80% of teenagers and young adults who contracted measles in 2017 had not been vaccinated.

Speaking on the sidelines of the presentation, Andriukaitis told EURACTIV he was optimistic that member states can make this happen, considering that in every country the situation is “really challenging”.

“Evidence shows that we need to react immediately. All countries now understand that they don’t have any chance to act alone or isolate themselves because the cross-border movement of people is absolutely different compared to 20 years ago. The Schengen concept is a crystal clear example,” the EU health chief said.

He also stressed the need to move toward digitised healthcare systems, as this will help countries meet the Commission’s recommendations on vaccination and improve IT infrastructure.

He explained that through IT tools, member states will be able to communicate better, and provide clear information to monitor the epidemiological situation and react immediately.

Vaccination: Raising awareness against fake news

Up to 3 million people die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases.

The rise of anti-vaccination campaigns has in recent years had a detrimental effect on EU public health as “forgotten” diseases such as measles re-appeared in Europe, raising eyebrows among policymakers.

What’s …

An open platform against fake news

The EU executive also proposed the creation of a European vaccination information portal by 2019 to provide “online objective, transparent and updated evidence on the benefits and safety of vaccines”.

The rise of anti-vaccination campaigns, especially via social media, has raised eyebrows among policymakers in Brussels and EU countries, and they are trying to find ways to tackle  rising vaccines hesitancy.

The Commission believes that by establishing such a platform, EU citizens will be able to have access to publicly available information and tackle fake news against vaccination.

But for Andriukaitis, this is also a big opportunity for the scientific community to join forces.

“We proposed specific and clear tools to strengthen and establish our platform, which can be open to scientific opinions. Scientists now have a good opportunity to join their forces using IT tools to express and explain their scientific opinions to people publicly, discuss risk topics and exchange views.”

“Our proposal allows the big scientific community to join forces and not to be in isolation because such a mentality is dangerous,” EU Health Commissioner emphasised.

Andriukaitis also pointed out the role of social media in providing the right information, encouraging “social media players also to join their forces”.

“It’s the responsibility of all of us to have access to reliable and scientifically verified data.”

The executive also proposed a common vaccination card that can be shared electronically across borders. This is an area the Commission will address next year.

Referring to the proposal the executive made on 25 April to increase availability and boost healthcare data sharing, Andriukaitis said: “It can help us align our possibilities to use the same IT readable format and add electronic vaccination cards, which can help us unite patients’ records”.

“I count on our teams, which can present all solutions until 2019.”

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