This article is part of our special report Vaccination: Raising awareness against fake news.
If the scientific community sticks together and makes a coordinated effort, it can be very influential in shaping national vaccination plans, Italian professor Paolo Bonanni told EURACTIV.com, citing Italy as a prime example.
Dr Bonanni stressed that the voice of the scientific world is sometimes not heard or taken into consideration, but with a concerted campaign, they can be really influential on vaccination policy.
The Italian professor was one of the scientists behind the “Calendar for Life” initiative, which resulted in a national vaccination plan for Italy including a life-course approach to immunisation to maximise protection against deadly diseases at all ages.
The “Calendar for Life” was launched in 2012 by four scientific societies and professional associations in Italy: The Italian Society of Hygiene and Public Health, the Italian Society for Paediatrics, the Italian Federation of Family Paediatricians and the Italian Federation of General Practitioners.
“At the time, the concept of vaccination was still not quite well understood at the public level, so we decided to propose the best possible calendar for vaccination based on scientific evidence. We thought this should be proposed to the population as the best practice for them in order to be protected from diseases,” Bonanni told EURACTIV.com.
In the beginning, the initiative intended to help the regional authorities increase the vaccination rates. But then it became really successful and the organisations decided to publish the second edition of the Calendar of Life in 2014.
“The initiative was taken as a role model for the national vaccination plan, which was adopted in 2017. Our calendar was the basic inspiration for the ministry of health to propose a new vaccination plan, which is now law in Italy,” Dr Bonanni noted.
Asked how the Italian scientific community managed to make its voice heard, considering that in many member states this is not the case, he replied it was a combination of several factors.
“There were the right people at the right place and we were convinced that what the scientific community proposed was the best possible evolution of our national vaccination plan.”
The Italian government approved the new plan for vaccination in February 2017 and five months later adopted a new mandatory vaccination law for schools, which was another aspect that had an impact on the coverage.
“Altogether, the vaccination plan and the mandatory law had had a very positive impact,” he said, pointing to increased vaccination rates as a tangible result.
‘Occupying’ the social media
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published on 23 April fresh data about the measles outbreak in Europe, pointing out measles vaccination gaps in 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.
“ECDC analysis of sub-national data indicates that even countries with high overall levels of vaccine coverage may have groups that are unvaccinated. In recent and ongoing measles outbreaks, ECDC’s recent rapid risk assessment identifies healthcare workers as among those affected,” the report noted.
Commenting on the report, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said all stakeholders should take the new data seriously.
“Measles is gaining pace in an increasing number of EU countries. This demonstrates that vaccine-preventable infectious diseases do not respect borders and one country’s immunisation weakness puts the whole Union at risk.”
The European Commission will propose on Thursday (26 April) a much-awaited initiative for strengthened cooperation against vaccine preventable diseases, calling for joint action to increase vaccination coverage and “ensure that everyone in the EU has access to vaccination, thus bridging inequalities and gaps in immunisation”.
In an interview with EURACTIV earlier this week, ECDC’s Director Andrea Ammon noted that there is a general skepticism against science and opinions of experts and mistrust in many countries when it comes to public authorities.
She also emphasised the negative role of anti-vaccination campaigns, stressing that more efforts should be made in the social media sector.
“We, in the public health authorities at EU and national level, are working to occupy more of the space on social media, as it is currently almost entirely occupied by people who are against vaccination,” she explained.