Building national capacities to safeguard vaccine safety

WHO/Željko Bracanović-Kokos

Safeguarding the high quality and sustainable supply of vaccines is essential to maintaining public confidence in vaccines and high immunization coverage. As part of ongoing efforts to achieve this objective of the European Vaccine Action Plan 2015–2020, WHO/Europe organized a subregional training workshop on surveillance and causality assessment of adverse events following immunization in Budva, Montenegro, on 21–25 November 2016.

80 representatives from 15 countries of the WHO European Region attended the workshop, as well as prominent experts in the areas of immunization and pharmacovigilance from WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (United States of America) and the Paul Ehrlich Institute (Germany).

The aim of the workshop was to strengthen regional and national capacities related to vaccine safety by sharing best practices and reviewing WHO recommendations, guidance and tools for setting up surveillance systems and causality assessment mechanisms to detect and respond effectively to adverse events following immunization.

Participants welcomed the opportunity to interact and exchange knowledge with experts and peers from other countries, and to work jointly as country teams to identify vaccine safety areas requiring improvement in their countries.

In addition to performing ongoing follow-up in the participating countries, WHO plans to adapt and implement a training programme on vaccine safety communications in other WHO regions in the coming year.

Key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Opening the workshop, Head of the WHO Country Office in Montenegro Ms Mina Brajović emphasized that immunization is one of the most powerful and cost-effective health interventions available, and that high coverage is vital to achieving the SDG commitments made by world leaders in 2015 to reduce poverty and inequality and improve human development. She pointed to the remarkable progress that has been made in protecting individuals and the public from vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Yet, a lot remains to be done to achieve the immunization-related SDGs, specifically target 3.8, which calls for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all. WHO has set objectives to support the achievement of this target. These call for, among other things, at least 90% immunization coverage of target populations, and at least 80% coverage in every district or equivalent administrative unit for all vaccines in a national immunization programme,” Ms Brajović said. She highlighted that leaving no one behind and ending preventable deaths require a massive scaling up of immunization.

Vaccine hesitancy

One of the major topics discussed during the workshop was vaccine hesitancy, which refers to a decision to delay or refuse vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services. Dr Boban Mugoša, Director of the National Institute of Public Health, highlighted this complex problem: “Vaccine hesitancy across the European Region is a challenge for the health and well-being of our children and our youth. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to manage immunization safety events properly.”

Ongoing efforts to keep vaccines safe

In cooperation with global and regional partners, WHO develops policies and tools to ensure the safe use of vaccines. It plays a key role in ensuring vaccine safety after a product has been licensed for use, monitors vaccinated populations to detect any adverse events following immunization and helps to address vaccine safety concerns when they arise in countries.

Ms Brajovic underlined that ensuring vaccines are made, used and tested in accordance with internationally accepted standards is one part of the effort to reduce the likelihood of a vaccine producing an adverse event. This requires a strong collaborative effort, both at the national level and internationally.