Mariano Votta, Director of Active Citizenship Network, and Clifford Holt, International Editor at Health Europa Quarterly, introduce this Special Feature on the need to expand and facilitate access to vaccination and for more resilient immunisation systems in Europe.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on citizens’ lives in several respects. One of the most important of these has been limiting access to different health services, in particular prevention services such as screening and vaccinations.
According to data collected by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, Gavi and the Sabin Vaccine Institute,1 the provision of routine immunisation services was substantially hindered in at least 68 countries and is likely to affect approximately 80 million children under the age of one living in these countries. The message is clear: we must not allow lifesaving health interventions to fall victim to our efforts to address COVID-19.
As was highlighted in the civic survey2 conducted on vaccination centres in Italy by Cittadinanzattiva and published by Health Europa Quarterly3 on the occasion of the annual European Immunisation Week (20-26 April 2020), it had been very difficult to even find information on these services, with telephone numbers provided but which no one answered, and a lack of a single information point, at least for some regions.
Several concrete proposals for action at the national level emerged from this experience (and which were also presented during an official hearing of Cittadinanzattiva in the Italian Parliament in June 2020):
• Influenza and anti-pneumococcal vaccination campaigns need to start early, in October, and provide for the reduction of free administration to people aged over 55 (this age limit currently stands at 65)
• There is a need for additional supplies of influenza vaccines
• In addition to vaccination centres, additional locations need to be made available for the administration of vaccinations, such as GP surgeries, pharmacies, schools, and workplaces
• Longer hours need to be provided in order to allow access to vaccinations in the afternoon and on weekends.
Questions need to be asked
When we look at the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of limited access to different health services, for example, prevention services such as screening and vaccinations, many questions need to be asked so that we can both better understand what has happened, and better prepare for the future. Some of these are:
• What lessons have been learned from
• different countries?
• In what ways have different counties responded?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of these responses?
• How can countries cope with the request, already formalised in some countries, to strengthen and extend the influenza vaccination to more people before autumn?
• How can the role of relevant healthcare professionals (such as community pharmacists and nurses) be extended to increase access to vaccine services and active health education, to boost confidence in vaccines, to improve the management of vaccination schedules, and to decrease hesitancy and so ensure higher vaccination coverage rates?
• What will happen when the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available?
In line with its long term commitment on the topic,4, Active Citizenship Network (ACN), the EU branch of Cittadinanzattiva, has collected testimonies and reflections on the above-mentioned questions and topics from a series of qualified interlocutors. They can be found in the following pages of this edition of Health Europa Quarterly, ACN’s media partner, and will be communicated at the European level to facilitate reflection amongst as wide an audience as possible.
Active Citizenship Network