According to the World Health Organization (WHO), measles reported cases rose from 300% during the only first three months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018, including in European and neighboring countries. "In 2018, more than 12.000 cases of measles and 35 deaths occurred in the EU. This is unacceptable," said keynote speaker Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. He recalled that according to the objective established by the WHO, measles should have already been eliminated in the European region since 2000.
To counter this phenomenon, Commissioner Andriukaitis stressed the importance of building trust and providing science-based information about vaccines "to increase vaccine acceptance and counter vaccination myths".
As shown in the Eurobarometer on attitudes towards vaccination, 85 % of EU citizens believe vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases, to protect themselves and others. Referring to it, Commissioner Andriukaitis exposed also worrying findings: 48% EU citizens believe vaccines can often produce serious side effects; 38% believe vaccines can cause the diseases against which they protect; and 34% do not see the need to be vaccinated. Commissioner Andriukaitis stressed the urgent need to reinforce positive perception of vaccines and to support and empower health workers to build trust.
Commissioner Andriukaitis called on all actors to take action and reinforce positive perception toward vaccination: "The ball is in our court, and high-level side events like this one prove that the political will is there. Now, we need to turn that political will into concrete action."
In his statement, Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Mr. Alex Azar, reaffirmed that vaccination is one of the most successful public health measures to date. He strongly recalled that "Vaccines are some of the most tested medical products that we have. Vaccines are safe, effective, and lifesaving." He also alerted about the threats of "complacency among the public, coupled with misunderstanding and misinformation, causing vaccination rates to decline, with tragic results."
Dr. Luiz Henrique Mandetta, Minister of Health of Brazil also delivered opening remarks highlighting efforts made by his country to increase vaccination coverage and called on all other countries and regions to cooperate and ensure that all populations are immunized. “Brazil calls on the international community to come together so that the world unites for vaccination. The challenges are not just for the Brazilian health system, but for humanity as a whole,” he said.
In the ensuing discussion with speakers, including Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada; Prof. Dr. Alexandru Rafila, Member of the WHO Executive Board; Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI Vaccine Alliance; and Prof. Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine, members of the panel highlighted the importance of achieving at least 95% immunization coverage leading to herd immunity.
High-level speakers also recognized the devastating potential of anti-vaccination misinformation campaigns, especially over social media, and agreed on the importance to help parents and children understanding the safety and benefits of vaccines as well as the seriousness of every disease that they prevent.
Finally, country representatives emphasized the need to recognize vaccines as a public health priority. In that regard, Commissioner Andriukaitis mentioned that "immunization has to be a priority for our health systems, and a fundamental part of primary health care".
At the end of the event, he invited together with WHO Director-General Dr Tedros to the Global Vaccination Summit taking place in September 2019 in Brussels, jointly organized by the European Commission and WHO. The Summit will aim to "boost political commitments toward eliminating vaccine preventable diseases", Commissioner Andriukaitis added.
This side event was jointly organised by the United States of America, the European Union, Romania, Canada, Ukraine and Brazil.