Expert: Complex vaccines ecosystem needs an EU-wide platform

The Maltese health expert also linked the fragility of the system to rising hesitancy, arguing that in order to increase public confidence a resilient vaccines ecosystem is needed. [Photo by Sarantis Michalopoulos]

This article is part of our special report A ‘healthy’ vaccines ecosystem.

A new EU-wide platform for vaccines, which will bring together all different stakeholders, is needed in order to identify the gaps and fix the problems of the vaccines ecosystem’s complexity, Dr Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, a health expert, told in an interview.

“Having a coalition, a platform where we bring together the industry, the regulators e.g. EMA, the civil society and the member states would be essential. But we need to have specific objectives in mind,” said Dr Muscat, a medical doctor from Malta’s Directorate for Health Information and Research.

Speaking to EURACTIV on the sidelines of the European Health Forum in Gastein, Austria, Dr Muscat said there were already a number of platforms based on an EU Council Recommendation, such as a joint action which brings together the EU member states.

But the civil society belongs to another action, in which representatives of the health professionals and patients participate.

“First of all, we need to have a good diagnosis of the ecosystem’s fragility. Then, we can set up the platform with a specific mandate to fix those problems,” she said.

The EU health forum in Gastein thoroughly discussed this year the complexity of the vaccines system. Health experts emphasised the need for “sustainability” and “predictability” via enhanced collaboration among different stakeholders.

Vaccination policy is a competence of member state authorities, but the European Commission assists EU countries in coordinating their policies and programmes.

The 2018 Commission recommendation on strengthened cooperation of all stakeholders against vaccine-preventable diseases has been a crucial step toward better coordination. However, its practical implementation will be a key challenge for the EU health Commissioner-designate Stella Kyriakides.

Dr Muscat said the vaccines system has been particularly complex as its stakeholders are tightly interrelated and interdependent while the EU market is fragmented.

“The manufacturing process is complex, we are now facing shortages and in addition, we also have to address a climate of hesitancy”.

The Maltese health expert also linked the fragility of the system to the rising hesitancy, arguing that in order to increase public confidence, a resilient vaccines ecosystem is needed.

“I think if you get all this right, it will provide the public with confidence, that we are well organised, we know what we’re doing, that we’re investing even in new and better vaccines.”

A 'healthy' vaccines ecosystem

The EU’s fragmented market has created barriers for vaccines in Europe. In this Special Report, EURACTIV looks into what a “healthy vaccines ecosystem” is and how its different components could better coordinate to break silos and improve healthcare.

More political focus on innovation

Presenting the industry’s point of view on vaccines ecosystem at the “Vaccine ecosystem health check” event, Alexander Kort from Vienna-based Themis Bioscience GmbH company, also stressed that the fragmented EU market poses additional hurdles.

“In the US, you have one portal of entry. In the EU, we have 27 or 28 portals,” he said.

Dr Muscat, who is also the president of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), also said policymakers needed to “appreciate more” issues around the research and manufacturing process.

“The need, for example, for good forecasting, and planning and timing, in order to allow the industry to be better prepared and respond,” she said.

Referring to costs, a major problem in some EU countries, she called for an “open-minded” approach.

“We need to take a look at the whole system a little bit with an open mind, and understand how we can make efficiency gains to reduce costs, because costs are still a big problem, especially for certain countries in the eastern part of the region,” she said.

“But you can’t drop the price to an extent that it doesn’t remain attractive or viable for the industry to invest even in vaccines and the new vaccines,” she concluded.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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