Meeting of European immunization programme managers offers innovative forum for exchange of ideas and experiences

WHO/ Z. Bracanovic

Over 170 immunization programme managers from 43 Member States of the WHO European Region came together on 24–27 October 2017 in Budva, Montenegro, for the biannual Immunization Programme Managers’ Meeting (PMM), organized by WHO/Europe. They focused on maintaining momentum towards the goals of the European Vaccine Action Plan (EVAP).

Participants received updates on the work of WHO and partners, informed WHO and each other about progress in their countries, and learned about innovative WHO projects to address ongoing challenges. The PMM covered many immunization-related topics using a variety of formats to ensure maximum information sharing and discussion.

Progress led by high-level commitment

Significant progress towards EVAP goals has been made in the Region, most notably in the areas of measles and rubella elimination, hepatitis B control and evidence-based decision-making. However, gains are variable among countries and progress remains fragile.

Dr Kenan Hrapović, Minister of Health of Montenegro, opened the PMM. He underlined that immunization coverage in Montenegro has declined in recent years to below 50% in 2016 – the lowest in its immunization history. Dr Hrapović said: “Faced with such alarming statistics, we have taken a number of concrete steps … It is necessary to lead parents to the right decision by offering them grounded evidence. Our goal in Montenegro is to increase immunization coverage to at least 95%.”

Dr Nedret Emiroglu, WHO/Europe Director of the Division of Health Emergencies and Communicable Diseases and Director of Programme Management, thanked Montenegro for hosting this important meeting. She emphasized that “immunization is one of the best investments in public health. There is enough science, enough information, knowledge and experience. The issue now is to implement it fully, and that requires political commitment.”

Varied programme and formats

WHO technical staff provided updates on progress towards elimination of measles and rubella, containment of poliovirus and setting of hepatitis B control targets. Common challenges such as vaccine shortages, vaccine hesitancy and declining immunization coverage were key topics of discussion.

To illustrate the importance of effective communication, actors were engaged to simulate conversations between immunization experts and vocal vaccine deniers. Country representatives shared experiences with various WHO tools and initiatives, including the “Guide to tailoring immunization programmes”, a new guide for target-group research in preparation for new vaccine introduction and European Immunization Week.

Looking ahead, country representatives were asked for their input to assist WHO/Europe in developing guidance in the areas of equitable immunization service delivery, a strategy to ensure financial sustainability of immunization programmes in middle-income countries, and adoption of a life-course approach to immunization.
The innovative programme facilitated information exchange and learning through a range of formats, including technical presentations, 5-minute impulse statements, meet-the-expert sessions, data reporting clinics, panel debates, group discussions and live polls via a mobile telephone application.

European Technical Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (ETAGE)

The PMM was followed immediately by the 17th meeting of ETAGE, to which chairs of national immunization technical advisory groups were invited. This juxtaposition facilitated a flow of information and overlap of attendees between the 2 meetings.

The PMM and ETAGE meeting reports will be posted online in the coming weeks.