Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General, DG SANTE
SD: What political action should be taken to address the resurgence of infectious diseases as one of the most underestimated health challenges we are currently facing, e.g. compared to non-communicable diseases?
MS: Prevention and management of communicable diseases is a foundation of health security, and therefore a part of a wider approach to the EU security union. Firstly, we need to ensure that our legislation on communicable diseases is properly applied in member states, and that the International Health Regulations are fully implemented internationally. In the EU, we will reinforce our preparedness planning, with a new action plan to be discussed in the Health Security Committee. The list of communicable diseases subject to surveillance is being revised, and new case definitions are proposed. Communicable disease alert systems are being made interoperable with other systems. Vaccination is an area where considerable improvement could be made. The joint procurement initiative where 19 Member States are jointly purchasing pandemic vaccines will contribute to better preparedness across the EU. The Commission is also planning an initiative in 2018 to reinforce vaccination as a public health tool, as a result of consultations with stakeholders held at a high-level conference earlier this year. A new approach to HIV, TBC and Hepatitis will look at the common factors between these three conditions. The ECDC is also a strong tool to support surveillance and risk assessment for the European Union.
SD: During the Forum’s discussion, the idea of creating an EU-level vaccine register was mooted – do you believe this is an achievable aim?
MS: Better registration of vaccination is certainly an important aspect. A joint action programme on vaccination, co-funded by the Health Programme 2017, is currently in preparation, and is to start in 2018. Twenty EU Member States are participating on this project with a vision to increase vaccine coverage in the EU. One of the key topics of this work is to strengthen the interaction and interoperability of immunisation information systems in Europe to increase vaccine surveillance capabilities. We will also address this topic as part of our vaccine initiative in 2018. It is also relevant for the Digital single market initiative, given the potential of electronic registries already established in other areas.
SD: If the topic of vaccines is on next year’s EHFG agenda, what focus would you like to see in the debate?
MS: The EHFG is composed of public health advocates. I would argue that we need a stronger voice to speak out in favour of this public health tool, to advocate its positive effects and to lead the way for health professionals in reinforcing a safer Europe for citizens.
This interviews were conducted by the Young Gasteiner Sarada Das