Vaccination is still a crucial topic this winter. Backlogs in routine vaccinations need to be solved, booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines must be administered, and the new flu season has begun. Healthcare professionals will have a lot of work.
In September, the Coalition for Vaccination, which gathers nearly 20 European associations of healthcare professionals and students, issued a statement underlining the importance of routine vaccination. Earlier in the summer, WHO and UNICEF warned that the global vaccination coverage continued to decline in 2021, with 25 million children missing out on lifesaving vaccines. Fortunately, the situation in Europe is better. However, inadequate coverage levels have resulted in avoidable European outbreaks of measles and polio. For example, there have been signs of the polio virus spreading in London. Moreover, the war in Ukraine has led to millions of refugees, especially children, whose vaccination status needs to be updated.
In October, the WHO/Europe, the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) teamed up to work together towards COVID-19 and seasonal influenza vaccinations for the upcoming winter.They highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over and that a resurgence of influenza can be expected. The potential co-circulation of COVID-19 and seasonal influenza would increase pressure on both hospitals and healthcare professionals. Therefore, vaccination is needed both to protect people’s health and to avoid additional burdens on healthcare systems.
The role of healthcare professionals is once again crucial. WHO/Europe, the European Commission and the ECDC urge European countries to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable groups by co-administering influenza and COVID-19 vaccines whenever feasible. Co-administration would also save healthcare professionals’ time. As the three institutions acknowledged in their statement, healthcare professionals are already exhausted from almost three years on the frontlines of the pandemic.
With these challenges in mind, healthcare professionals need support. In spring, the Coalition for Vaccination called on European countries to help healthcare professionals roll out vaccination campaigns and support them to increase uptake of routine immunisations. This now also applies to influenza and COVID-19 vaccines. Moreover, additional training is always needed. In 2021, the Coalition co-chairs carried out a survey as part of the IMMUNION project which revealed that there is a need for complementary training for many healthcare professionals across Europe on vaccine communication, vaccine safety, fighting misinformation, and other critical topics.
The role of healthcare professionals is central, as they are seen as the most trustworthy sources of information about vaccines. Their job is to raise awareness about the benefits of immunisation and to deliver evidence-based information about vaccination. At the same, they have to be vaccinated and increase vaccine confidence among themselves. It is notable, that the WHO/Europe, the Commission and the ECDC listed healthcare professionals as one of the priority groups to be vaccinated against both influenza and COVID-19.
This autumn and winter, let’s remember all together that vaccination is a safe and efficient way of protecting individuals and populations from vaccine-preventable communicable diseases.
Training materials developed by the IMMUNION project, including a ‘Train the Trainers Online Session’ are available on the Coalition for Vaccination website. Please visit our resources page for more information: Education and Reports | IMMUNION (coalitionforvaccination.com)