Vaccination is the main tool for primary prevention of disease and one of the most cost-effective public health measures available. Immunisation through vaccination is the best defence we have against serious, preventable, and sometimes deadly, contagious diseases. Thanks to widespread vaccination, smallpox has been eradicated, Europe made polio-free, and many other diseases almost eliminated.
Today, more than 100 million children worldwide are vaccinated annually against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, tuberculosis, polio, measles, and hepatitis B. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccination prevents an estimated 2-3 million deaths worldwide each year and reduces disease-specific treatment costs, including antimicrobial treatments (prescribed for viral infections).
Despite its brilliant track record, several EU and neighbouring countries have faced unprecedented outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases due to insufficient vaccination coverage rates. The waning of public confidence in vaccination, geographical differences in accessibility, and rise of mis- and disinformation on vaccination are a cause of concern and a major challenge for public health experts. Ensuring equitable access to vaccines for all EU citizens, fighting mis- and disinformation, and improving vaccine confidence are objectives shared by the European Commission and EU Member States.
There are very strict rules within the European Union for the approval of any vaccines put on the market. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) carries out the evaluation and supervision of vaccines, once these have been designed. Following very comprehensive testing, the European Commission can then issue a marketing authorisation. Once on the market, EMA continues to evaluate the safety of the vaccines and performs post-authorisation surveillance. All these steps are devised to ensure maximum safety, with the ultimate concern being the health and wellbeing of the population.
All components of vaccines marketed in the European Union undergo intense scrutiny and have been, through various studies, deemed safe in the context of those vaccines.
Action at EU level
Vaccination policy is a competence of national authorities, but the European Commission supports EU countries in coordinating their policies and programmes.
In December 2018, EU Health Ministers adopted a Council Recommendation on strengthened cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases. Actions called for by this policy initiative aim for example to coordinate vaccine procurement, support research and innovation and tackle vaccine hesitancy, the overall objective being to increase the uptake of vaccination in the EU in a life-course perspective.
- Roadmap for the implementation of actions
- Council Recommendation
- Commission Communication
- Video (subtitles available in EN, FR, DE, IT, RO)
- Factsheet (available in FR, DE, IT, PT, RO)
- Consultation process
- Factsheet - Implementation of EU actions to boost vaccine confidence
In addition the Commission supports EU countries in maintaining or increasing rates of vaccination by:
- promoting seasonal flu vaccination to at risk groups.
- encouraging EU countries to ensure that all children are immunised
- authorising the use of three vaccines against cervical cancer
- assisting EU countries in the development of a vaccination strategy against pandemic H1N1 influenza (or "swine flu")
- raising awareness of the importance of immunisation and supporting EU countries activities in the context of the European Immunisation Week, signalled yearly in the last week of April.
One of the goals of Europe's Beating Cancer Plan is to eliminate cervical cancer by vaccinating young people against the Human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes it and is also linked to head and neck, and anal cancers. Specifically, the Plan calls for vaccinating at least 90% of the EU's target population of girls and for significantly increasing the vaccination rate among boys.
In 2023, the Commission will propose actions to increase the uptake of vaccination against the Hepatitis B virus and human papillomaviruses. These actions will include reducing physical obstacles to vaccination, targeted communication, and fighting mis- and disinformation.
Safe COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans
- On 17 June 2020, the European Commission presented an EU strategy for COVID-19 vaccines to accelerate the development, manufacturing and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. Safe and effectives vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, are our best bet to gradually end the pandemic.
- On 15 October 2020, the Commission published a Communication on preparedness for COVID-19 strategies and vaccine deployment presenting the key elements Member States should take into consideration in their national COVID-19 vaccination plans, in particular the definition of priority groups for vaccination.
- Find out more about the Commission's actions to support the deployment of safe and effective vaccines globally: Safe COVID-19 vaccines for Europeans
Joint Action on Vaccination
The European Commission is reinforcing its support to national vaccination efforts to increase coverage, including through the Joint Action on Vaccination co-funded by the EU Health Programme (€3.55 million).
Launched in 2018, the Joint Action on Vaccination addresses vaccine hesitancy and seeks to increase vaccination coverage in the EU. It is coordinated by INSERM (France) and involves 20 partners (among them 17 EU countries and 3 non-EU countries).
It also works towards strengthening cooperation of national immunisation advisory groups (NITAGs) with a view to increasing transparency and trust in the decision-making process regarding the introduction of new vaccines.
Coalition for Vaccination
A Coalition for Vaccination was established in spring 2019 and brings together European health professionals' and students' associations to advocate for vaccination in their work with citizens and peers. Members of the Coalition for Vaccination commit to delivering accurate information to the public, to fighting myths around vaccination and vaccines, and to exchanging best practices. It is currently co-chaired by three major European health professionals' associations:
- the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME)
- the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU)
- the European Federation of Nurses Associations (EFN)
The Coalition published a manifesto on 9 February 2021 with three key reasons why all healthcare professionals should get vaccinated against COVID19 when they get the opportunity.
They also issued a statement in 2021 to support of the annual Flu Awareness campaign, recommending that healthcare professionals get vaccinated against influenza, and a statement in 2022 underlining the importance of routine and childhood vaccination.
The Coalition for Vaccination meets annually to discuss their activities to promote vaccination.
- European Vaccination Information Portal
- European Parliament project: Patients' and Professionals' Awareness, Communication and Trust project (VAC-PACT)
- Eurobarometer - Europeans' attitudes towards vaccination
- Vaccination glossary
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
- State of Vaccine Confidence in the EU and the UK: report 2020
- State of Vaccine Confidence in the EU (updated report, with new statistics for Sweden): report 2018 – summary factsheet
- The organization and delivery of vaccination services: full report – 28 country fiches