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IP/09/1103

Brussels, 8 July 2009

Commission calls for scaling up of seasonal flu vaccination in Europe

Today, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Council recommendation on seasonal flu vaccination. The proposed recommendation calls on EU countries to ensure that 75% of their elderly population and 75% of people with some specific underlying health problems are vaccinated every year against seasonal flu. This target should be achieved by 2015 at the latest. Vaccination coverage rates in older people vary considerably in Europe ranging from 2% in Lithuania to 80% in the Netherlands. Additional measures mentioned in the proposal include education and training for healthcare workers on seasonal influenza as well as information to those people targeted for vaccination and their families. Each country should report annually to the Commission on the progress they make with vaccination coverage until 2015 and then every 3 years.

Vaccination is the most cost effective way to reduce the debilitating effects that seasonal flu has every year on individuals, their families and society.

EU Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said: "This proposal recognises the importance of good forward planning. With A H1N1 we are in a pandemic situation but fortunately, so far, the virus has caused only mild to moderate symptoms in the majority of those infected. Seasonal influenza will hit Europe in early winter. We need to act now and step up our vaccine capacity for both seasonal flu and A H1N1, and we only have a narrow time frame to do so. This initiative helps to limit the effects of seasonal flu in the most vulnerable groups. It does so by using the means that have proven effective for years, but which, unfortunately, have not been made use of to an extent that would match their benefit."

National Action Plans

The proposal calls on each EU country to adopt a national action plan to improve seasonal flu vaccination coverage in order to reach the 75% target for the over 65 years population and those people with underlying medical conditions by the winter season 2014/2015. It is estimated that by then this may well represent one quarter of the EU population. The recommendation also calls for annual national surveys measuring the national uptake. It also stresses the need to increase the vaccine manufacturing capacity for seasonal flu vaccination. This is due to the fact that the same laboratory facilities are used to produce pandemic vaccines, for example against the influenza A H1N1 variant virus. The current A H1N1 pandemic proves more than ever the urgent need for Europe to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity in order to improve supply with both annual seasonal flu vaccines and pandemic vaccines to citizens inside the EU but indirectly also to those beyond EU borders.

The proposal needs now to be agreed with the Council and the European Parliament and should be adopted later this year.

Background

Seasonal influenza is a highly contagious viral disease, which typically occurs during the cold winter months. Though it strikes the general population it hits the elderly and those who already suffer from health problems the hardest. It can cause severe complications such as pneumonia and can lead to death. Depending on the severity of the seasonal flu an estimated 40,000 to 200,000 people die every year in the EU. In 2003, the World Health Assembly (WHA), the high level legislative body of the World Health Organisation recommended increasing seasonal flu vaccination coverage for those at risk. The Commission proposal builds on the WHA resolutions of 2003 and on European Parliament resolutions from 2005/06 regarding pandemic influenza preparedness and response.

The Commission's European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) operates a dedicated network for the surveillance of seasonal influenza as well as providing scientific and technical expertise.

For more information:

For more information on seasonal influenza and to read the proposed Recommendation:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_threats/com/Influenza/influenza_en.htm

EU health portal in 22 languages page on influenza:

http://ec.europa.eu/health-eu/health_problems/avian_influenza/index_en.htm

ECDC website: http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/Default.aspx


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