Europe’s populations are aging, adding to the burden on already struggling healthcare systems, but one way to reduce this burden is to introduce adult immunization programs to tackle vaccine-preventable diseases.
At a recent EURACTIV event on public health and disease prevention, Yan Sergerie, director of global medical affairs at pharmaceutical company GSK, explained that the vast majority of costs associated with treating vaccine-preventable diseases come from unvaccinated people.
“From an overall value perspective, vaccination should be viewed as a way to reduce the number of clinic visits, medical treatments, hospitalizations, prescriptions, and possibly mortality,” Sergerie said.
According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) collected from 26 countries, more than a third of people aged 16 and over live with a long-standing illness or health problem.
As populations age, the number of chronic diseases increases, leading to more complications from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Many countries have vaccination programs for children, but many vaccine-preventable diseases also occur in adults, such as influenza, hepatitis, human papillomavirus (HPV), tetanus, tuberculosis, and many others.
“The disease burden for most infectious diseases is U-shaped,” said Joe Schmitt, board member of the Coalition for Life Course Immunization (CLCI), referring to the fact that the high severity of the disease occurs sooner or later in life.
According to the expert, vaccination remains the most effective way to “produce health” and spend less. “In the coming decade of austerity, we can only make the best use of our resources if we prioritize vaccines and immunization,” Schmitt added.
There are several barriers to successful adult immunization programs, but a key factor is that countries have the right policies.
“It is important to consider that you depend on national vaccination programs. This way, you receive the vaccines recommended by your health authorities,” said Sibilia Quilici, executive director of Vaccines Europe.
Quilici argued that vaccines for adults should be integrated into national immunization programs, so that they reflect a life-long strategy, mentioning that up to 20 infectious diseases can be prevented throughout the lifespan. of life, from childhood to the elderly.
“These now represent a little less than 0.5% of the health budget (…). So very, very little budget to prevent so many infectious diseases that can lead to comorbidities and significant costs to society,” Quilici said.
How to get there
In order to establish strong adult vaccination programs in European countries, several obstacles need to be overcome.
According to Pierre van Damme, professor of vaccinology and infectious diseases at the University of Antwerp, above all we need to educate adults of all ages and professions about vaccination and prevention.
“It’s really a challenge to have the whole group well aware of the different aspects of vaccination, infectious diseases and prevention,” van Damme said.
He pointed to COVID-19 booster vaccination programs as an example of challenge, as he targeted at-risk groups and the over-50 population.
“In some countries, a large part of this population over the age of 50 did not consider themselves to be at the [an increased] risk,” he said, arguing for good communication around vaccination.
Van Damme also mentioned that before COVID, it was rare for the health sector in many countries to reach adults.
“So not waiting for a complaint or a symptom, but proactively trying to reach that population and offer a preventative measure,” he said, also advocating for greater education of medical students. , midwives, nurses and more on the subject of adult vaccination.
Investments in primary care are another key point, argued Tomislav Sokol, MEP for the European People’s Party (EPP).
“We need to provide incentives for health care providers to specialize in primary care,” Sokol said.
“(We) need to define more clearly what the role of primary care is in terms of protecting public health, in general, when we talk about vaccination,” he added.
With other issues such as vaccine hesitancy also increasing, there are plenty of issues to address. EU Member States have retained full competence in health policy, but the EU also has a role to play.
“What the European Union can do is support national policies by funding, sharing best practices or providing administrative and other assistance [for member states]“, Sokol said.
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]
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