EU Adopts Pandemic H1N1 Strategy
Today, the Commission adopted a strategy paper supporting Member States in their efforts to respond efficiently to the pandemic H1N1 2009. In order to minimise the negative impact of the pandemic, the Commission highlights the importance of close coordination between EU Member States in all related sectors affected by the pandemic. The Commission leads the EU coordination on the pandemic through well established structures such as the EU's Health Security Committee and with the scientific advice provided by EU Agencies (e.g European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and European Medicines Agency).
The strategy paper identifies key strategic strands to strengthen coordination and emphasises support to the Member States that are in a less favourable situation. Vaccination remains one of the most effective means of preventing the spread of the pandemic and attention is centred on vaccine development and vaccination strategies as well as supporting Member States in procuring vaccines.
The need for clear, coherent and targeted messages on preventive measures, including vaccination, to the public is addressed. Solidarity for third countries is also part of the overall capacity building that the Commission wants to promote.
EU Health Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, said: " Today, the Commission has taken an important step in adopting a document that draws together key issues from different sectors on how we can work together in Europe and with our global partners to reduce the negative effects of this pandemic and to protect more lives. We need to remain vigilant and continue to coordinate our preparations to respond to the pandemic in the months ahead. There is a need for closer coordination across sectors and Member States, whether at European level, national, regional or local to help address the social, economic and health impacts of this pandemic.'
Vaccination is an essential element of the EU strategy to address the pandemic. However, due to limited capacity to produce large amounts of vaccines in a short timeline, an adequately planned vaccination strategy is required. Based on the current scientific evidence and epidemiological trends, the Commission communication sets out possible options to be considered by the Member States when determining their vaccination strategies. A joint procurement mechanism is proposed to support the Member States that are still in the process of ordering vaccines.
Support to third countries and international cooperation
The Commission is committed to supporting third countries to respond to the pandemic. The Commission will be working with third countries on issues related to the availability of and access to vaccines, strengthening healthcare capacities and reinforcing general preparedness while respecting the principles of aid effectiveness and countries ownership.
To ensure a coherent global public health response, the EU is also closely collaborating with international health organisations such as WHO and the Global Health Security Initiative (GHSI). The last Ministerial Meeting of the GHSI was hosted by Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou, in Brussels, 11 September 2009. ( IP/09/1306 )
In addition to public health concerns, public authorities should also anticipate the social and economic effects of the pandemic. Unbalanced pressure on healthcare services, potential increase of morbidity and mortality rate, lower productivity and decline in economic sectors involving close contacts such as tourism, leisure activities and retail shopping can harm society and economies. It is thus important to ensure business continuity and the functioning of critical services.
The EU Health Security Committee adopted a joint statement on school closure on 25 August 2009 ( IP/09/1252 ) This may need to be reviewed according to the epidemiological developments.
Efficient response measures should include healthcare, economic and societal dimensions. A multi-sectoral approach and effective communication to the public will ensure correct public awareness on countermeasures such as basic hygiene.
Five complementary documents
Following the Informal health council on 6 - 7 July 2009, the Commission was requested to review and work further on 5 specific areas. These are the five Commission staff working documents published today which focus on vaccine development, vaccination strategies, joint procurement, communication to the public and support for the third countries. The reports present a range of potential actions that can be useful in responding to the pandemic and supporting member States effort.
The EU strategy on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009, and five associated working documents will form the basis of discussions at the extraordinary meeting of EU health ministers on 12 October 2009.