TALLINN - European Union ministers of health at a meeting in Brussels on Friday approved Council conclusions on vaccination as one of the most effective tools for preventing disease and improving public health.
Additionally, the ministers also approved the Council's recommendations on enhancing cancer screening, spokespeople for the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs said.
"Vaccines have been a revolutionary invention in the history of medicine. Vaccination has prevented many diseases, reduced the burden on healthcare systems and saved millions of lives every year. At the same time, the number of people who are hesitant about the necessity of vaccination is growing, as people are no longer aware of the consequences of those diseases that no longer occur thanks to vaccination," Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson said.
"The Council conclusions highlight the need to enhance the fight against the spread of misinformation in order to increase people's confidence in vaccination and the need to strengthen cooperation across the European Union in preventing and limiting the spread of infectious diseases," he added.
The health ministers recognized that people's concerns about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines have come to the fore even more during the COVID-19 pandemic. The level of vaccination coverage varies greatly from member state to member state, at the same time, due to the pandemic, several new solutions have been developed in the EU and the exchange of information has improved significantly. Progress has been made across the EU in accelerating vaccine development and joint procurement, creating common digital COVID-19 certificates and launching the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Agency (HERA). Vaccine insurance started in Estonia in May of this year, the purpose of which is to encourage people to get vaccinated and to support people if a very rare but serious side effect has occurred during vaccination.
The conclusions state that the COVID-19 pandemic also clearly showed the dangers and problems that the spread of misinformation poses to society, which is why the ministers call on member states to step up their efforts to combat misinformation regarding vaccination. The European Commission is also invited to offer, through the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), advice and recommendations to member states to promote vaccination, taking into account the specificities of each country, and to create an expert forum that would bring together experts from different fields who could make recommendations to increase vaccination coverage throughout the EU.
The ministers pointed out that the increase in international migration has necessitated global cooperation on vaccination. It must also be taken into account that the presence of infectious diseases in Europe is also affected by other global issues and crises, in particular climate change, which is likely to increase the spread of tick-borne encephalitis, West Nile fever, dengue fever and other vector-borne diseases.
In order to increase vaccination coverage in the population, the ministers called on the European Commission and member states to continue vaccination programs for both adults and children, to improve the availability of vaccination opportunities and to train healthcare workers and communication experts to enhance communication about the benefits of vaccination.
In order to strengthen cooperation between countries, the Council conclusions call on the European Commission, among other things, to continue organizing joint procurement of vaccines and to create a digital solution that would facilitate the exchange of information about the surplus and shortage of vaccines, thereby enabling the resale or donation of vaccines between member states.
In addition, the Council recommendations on improving cancer screening were approved at the meeting. The new screening recommendations stipulate, among other things, that by 2025, 90 percent of the people in the target group of the screenings will be screened for breast, cervical and colon cancer in Europe. It is also recommended that countries consider planning screening programs for lung and prostate cancer and, under certain conditions, stomach cancer, as well as assess their feasibility.