To achieve increased and sustainable influenza vaccine coverage in Europe, the effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines should be improved, especially for the clinical risk groups and older people. In their Lancet commentary published yesterday, ECDC Director Dr Marc Sprenger and Head of Influenza and other Respiratory Viruses Programme Dr Angus Nicoll look at effectiveness studies of seasonal influenza vaccines and suggest several areas for improvement.
While effectiveness of the influenza vaccine is influenced by the type of viruses circulating each season, independent observational studies led by ECDC and other European experts also show that, in Europe, seasonal vaccine effectiveness in the old and clinical risk groups has regularly been less than 70%. In 2009, the Council of the EU pledged regional political commitment to improve vaccine coverage, and set a national target of 75% coverage for older age groups (ie, aged 65 years and older), individuals with chronic ill health, and health-care workers. From the public perspective and a public health standpoint, more effective vaccines are needed to encourage their use and reach towards the target of vaccination coverage.
Importantly, since vaccine effectiveness is highest among healthy adults, a way to protect the most vulnerable groups – young children, older people and those with chronic diseases – could be by vaccinating those around them. Therefore, it is especially important for healthcare workers to get vaccinated (external link), to protect their patients as well as themselves.
The authors conclude by stating that vaccination remains the single most effective preventive measure against seasonal influenza, and the use of present vaccines should be strongly advocated among those for whom they are recommended.
The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 'Low effectiveness undermines promotion of seasonal influenza vaccine', (open access, registration needed)