It is time to come clear on the future of our annual attempts to vaccinate the population against normal influenza, what we call “seasonal influenza”. Vaccination rates are falling, as indicated in last week’s European Commission status report on the Implementation of the Council Recommendation on Seasonal Influenza Vaccination. Changes need to be made; this first requires identifying the problem. Why aren’t people getting vaccinated?
Part of the issue comes from the perceived “hype” over the recent pandemic – that ended up not being a pandemic. The public health community and the vaccines industry did everything right, siding on the side of caution, but the public view is that the pandemic warnings, and the vaccinations, were a hype – or even a hoax.
The EU Commission Report as well as the ECDC Technical Report in Annex I of the Report both identify other gaps to be addressed: low and, in the majority of countries cited, declining coverage rates; low public perception of risk; and low Member State communication engagement. Another big problem is the scepticism surrounding vaccine effectiveness. This is compounded by a fear of possible side effects that may come with vaccination, and a low perception of risk. It is true that at a certain level we get “herd immunity”, meaning the circulation of virus drops, as there are enough of people that are not susceptible. But the risk is still real: When so many of your work colleagues and neighbours complain about getting the flu despite being vaccinated, would you believe the story?
I do not believe we can “campaign” ourselves out of this problem. To put it bluntly, if we want to make real change, we also will need more effective flu vaccines. We’ve made great progress but we can do more. Towards this end, collaborative efforts are needed. Industry, researchers, and decision-makers need to join forces to support the advancement of this research.
Ultimately, a cooperative approach will be needed if we are to address the varied points that relate to vaccine effectiveness. Those other issues cited in the Report can’t be forgotten either – from coverage rates to MS engagement. There is need to address gaps like these, as highlighted in the EC report. Towards this end, EFPIA and its specialised group Vaccines Europe are looking into creating a public-private partnership through the second Innovative Medicines Initiative. The first IMI already has made great advances in promoting key vaccine projects, optimising data polling and setting up sustainable infrastructures for rapid and integrated post-licensure vaccines monitoring. With IMI2, we can look further at how to improve patient access to innovation. Acting to address gaps like those outlined in the EC report would be a good start. Identifying the gaps relating to vaccine success is not enough – we need to act. Now is the time.0