EU citizens should be aware of all necessary information related to the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines in order to ensure transparency and build trust in the vaccine, an EU spokesperson has told EURACTIV. According to available data compiled by the EURACTIV network, however, the level of transparency will vary across the bloc.
“It is not only important to develop vaccines, it is also crucial to ensure the vaccination of our citizens. In order to ensure a sufficient uptake of vaccination, it is important to build citizens’ trust in the vaccines,” the EU spokesperson said.
The official added that this requires, among other things, that the citizens have all necessary information about the vaccines, including their efficacy, quality and safety.
“Transparency is an important element of this process. This explains why the labelling and packaging obligations for vaccine developers require for instance that all health care professionals and all patients have access to a leaflet in their own languages,” the EU spokesperson said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it expects to approve a COVID‑19 mRNA vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer at an extraordinary meeting scheduled for 29 December at the latest.
Moderna’s vaccine approval is scheduled for 12 January while several others are expected throughout 2021.
Considering that a number of COVID-19 vaccines will be on the market, there is a discussion over whether people will be able to choose which vaccine they will take or at least be aware which vaccine they get.
In Greece, media reported that the government is not planning to let people know what vaccine they will get while in Spain it looks like they will know at very short notice, even on the day of vaccination.
In Finland, citizens will not be aware of the manufacture but this has not been an issue, as the majority of people will be happy to take up vaccines approved by the EU, EURACTIV’s Pekka Vanttinen reported from Helsinki.
In Prague, Czechs will not have the possibility to choose the type of vaccine, but it seems that at least they will be aware of the manufacturer.
In contrast, Hungarians will be able to choose, the conservative government said in a statement on Tuesday.
In Belgium, there is still confusion over the issue. Asked whether Belgians will be able to choose, Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (SP.A) replied:
“Good question. I’m not going to give an answer yet. The task force will still discuss this, because it depends, among other things, on when which vaccines arrive.”
Vaccinologist Pierre Van Damme commented that if all those vaccines have similar efficacy rates of around 90% “that’s great and it doesn’t matter whether you’re using this or that vaccine for older age groups or younger age groups”.
“But should we see differences in function of, for example, age, we can take this into account in the distribution. ‘This vaccine is better for the older people, this vaccine is better for the younger people’, and so on,” he added.
Monitoring vaccines’ safety
Another key element for a successful vaccination strategy is for EU member states to create registries in order for the EU to have a clear picture of the vaccines’ progress.
The ECDC will establish a mechanism for the collection of COVID-19 vaccine coverage data from the countries, based on their national surveillance systems in place, and make these available at EU level.
In an e-mailed response to EURACTIV, the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) said the development of national and regional registry systems to enable systematic monitoring of vaccination programmes remains critical to enable measuring key aspects, such as uptake of the vaccines, and document vaccine status/coverage, safety, effectiveness and acceptance.
“COVID-19 vaccination is no exception and member states in the EU are actively upgrading or developing systems that can enable monitoring such key aspects once COVID-19 vaccination is rolled out in the population,” ECDC said.
“Documentation regarding which vaccine product has been administered and when is key to the success of vaccination programmes,” ECDC stressed, adding that such documentation is also important for monitoring any safety signals, such as an adverse event following immunisation (AEFI) that may arise for any of the vaccine products.
A recent report found that electronic immunisation registries for the monitoring of individual and population-level vaccine uptake are available at the national or subnational level in 13 countries while are under development in another 10.
*Aneta Zachová (EURACTIV.cz), Fernando Heller (EuroEFE), Pekka Vanttinen, Vlagyiszlav Makszimov and Alexandra Brzozowski (EURACTIV.com) also contributed to this story.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]