Every year, the last week of April marks World Immunisation Week, a time to reflect on the importance of protecting people from vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccination has undoubtedly been a top public health priority since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. But as pandemic-era restrictions have been lifted and the overall burden of COVID-19 eases (with fewer hospitalisations and deaths), it begs the question: what does COVID-19 look like after the pandemic?
In short, the end of the pandemic will not be the end of COVID-19. Rather, we are slowly moving into a new endemic context, in which Europe’s health systems will need to adapt to manage the disease in the long-term.
Mass vaccination will need to be replaced by routine COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. This is particularly important to protect the most vulnerable, including older age groups and people with underlying conditions. Europe’s successful transition relies on several key factors.
First, Europe needs to ensure ongoing and effective public communication about the importance of vaccination and the types of vaccines available. EU citizens – especially those who fall into high-risk groups – need to be aware of the continued need for COVID-19 vaccination, as vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time and new viral strains continue to emerge. Communication is needed not only to increase vaccine confidence, but also to tackle complacency.
Second, it is essential for Europe to maintain a diverse portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines to bolster supply chain security and best meet the needs of the population. The EU has approved vaccines that use three different technologies – mRNA, protein-based, and viral vector – each of which has its own unique characteristics. Now that we have moved past the urgency of pandemic-era mass vaccination campaigns, governments should make a range of vaccine technologies accessible and empower healthcare providers and consumers to choose the product that is best suited to an individual’s clinical needs and preferences. Such an approach is critical for optimizing vaccine uptake and for ensuring there is not an overreliance on one vaccine technology.
Third, as the virus continues to evolve, manufacturers require clarity from health authorities on the process and timing for updating COVID-19 vaccine composition. Different vaccine platforms have different production lead times of up to 6 months. To ensure that vaccines can be available when governments intend to roll out campaigns, this timing needs to be taken into account and all relevant stakeholders need to have a seat at the table, including industry.
The European Parliament has an important role to play in this, as part of its work to prioritise the health and well-being of EU citizens. The COVI Committee’s planned report is essential not only to look back at the pandemic itself, but to consider how the lessons learned can be applied for the future of COVID-19. Ultimately, it is through collaboration, communication, and coordinated action that we can accomplish a successful transition out of the pandemic and move towards a healthier, more resilient future.
This article was written by Andrea Corazza, Senior Director, Policy & Government Affairs, Europe, Novavax.