BRUSSELS--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The first annual EU Flu Day is being launched today, 14 October 2020. The campaign seeks to highlight the importance of seasonal flu vaccination, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and to address challenges for sustainable increase of flu vaccine coverage rates in Europe as a critical public health measure for healthcare systems sustainability.
It is a call to action for European citizens – particularly healthcare workers and at-risk groups – to make them aware of the need to be vaccinated against flu, in order to protect themselves, those around them as well as alleviating the stress on national health care systems.
The campaign is being spearheaded by Dolors Montserrat, a leading Member of the European Parliament (EPP, Spain) and Co-Chair of the Health Working Group. Montserrat is also a former Minister of Health in Spain. The campaign is being organised with the support of Vaccines Europe.
There are several activities being planned for EU Flu Day, including:
- #EUFluDay online campaign: EU Flu Day is an opportunity for policymakers and citizens alike to set an example. Everyone is encouraged to share a message about the importance of getting the flu vaccine on social media, using the hashtag #EUFluDay. EU policy makers have already begun posting messages of support (e.g. here, here, here), and several more are expected over the course of the day.
- EU Flu Day launch webinar: MEP Montserrat is holding a webinar to mark the launch of EU Flu Day, bringing together participants from the European Commission, World Health Organisation, European Parliament, healthcare professionals and the vaccines industry. It is titled “Flu vaccination as a public health measure during COVID-19” and is taking place from 14:00-16:00 CET on 14 October 2020. Speakers will share their views on optimal approaches to increase flu vaccine uptake during COVID-19. This will include how to overcome barriers with the uptake of seasonal flu vaccines, and how to ensure early supply forecast planning, given the long lead times for vaccine production. One key proposal is to extended window for flu vaccination, in order to meet the increased demand caused by a pandemic.
“We are calling on Europeans citizens, particularly health workers and at-risk groups, to get their seasonal flu vaccination, in order to protect themselves and others, and to avoid overwhelming national healthcare systems” said MEP Montserrat. “We want to do all we can to drive action to safeguard public health from seasonal influenza, especially in a COVID-19 setting. That’s why I am calling on EU policymakers to lead by example on 14 October – and throughout the entire season. With an annual EU Flu Day, we have an opportunity to improve flu vaccine uptake rates across the EU for future seasons. Only by taking steps like this can we safeguard public health in the face of a truly unprecedented crisis.”
The importance of flu vaccination during COVID-19
Seasonal flu vaccines are an essential part of the annual public health toolkit. It is estimated that there are up to 50 million cases of seasonal flu in Europe each year, causing up to 70,000 deaths. Seasonal flu also puts a large strain on healthcare systems, for example through hospitalisations. With the dual threat of seasonal flu and COVID-19, uptake of flu vaccines will be even more vital for public health during the 2020/2021 season to prevent the overwhelming of healthcare systems.
The WHO recommends that countries should aim for 75% flu vaccine coverage rate among at-risk groups. Yet no EU country currently meets this target. In fact, the latest available data shows an average uptake level of only 41% of those aged 65 and over, with the lowest score being only 7.7%, while some Member States are above 60%.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased public awareness of the need for each person to take steps that protect the wider community – particularly those in at-risk groups. Seasonal flu vaccines are one of the most effective ways people can protect themselves, others and healthcare systems, particularly in a COVID-19 pandemic setting. Depending on local recommendations, flu vaccination might be prioritised to at-risk groups at the start of vaccination season, however it is important to note that people - both in and outside scope of risk groups - should consider vaccination even until January and beyond as peak phase of flu can fall to February or March.
Magdalena R. De Azero, Executive Director of Vaccines Europe, said: “The vaccine industry is currently working around the clock to develop, manufacture and supply COVID-19 vaccines. While these efforts continue, manufacturers have also managed to marginally increase their flu vaccine production to cope with increased demand. These efforts should be supported with effective national flu vaccination campaigns to ensure optimal access and uptake.” She added that “flu is an annual public health threat with or without the concurrent pandemic. Therefore, EU Flu Day needs to be a springboard for action. We need to translate ideas into reality – like expanding access to flu vaccines in new healthcare settings like pharmacies, and implementing targeted vaccination campaigns to meet demands of seasonal flu vaccination administration in a COVID-19 setting. Policymakers at both EU and national level have an essential role to play in achieving this – both this year and beyond.”
Vaccines Europe is a specialised group of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) that represents major innovative research-based vaccine companies as well as small and medium-sized enterprises operating in Europe which account for a large share of human vaccines used worldwide.