The COVID-19 has tested our health systems and societies to their core, highlighting the weaknesses and ability of the countries to handle a large-scale public health crisis. The pandemic has grown to constitute the largest global public health crisis in a century with formidable health, social and economic challenges across the world. A vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is generally perceived as a possible solution to the crisis. On the other hand, the anti-vaccine movements and vaccine scepticism are rising.

Key European stakeholders suggested several ways to increase confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine during the virtual discussion titled GLOBSEC 2020 #ResilientSocieties – Restoring the Value of Vaccines, which took place on October 7th on the sidelines of the GLOBSEC 2020 Bratislava Forum.

Participants included representatives of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Parliament, public health authorities of the V4 countries, experts, and representatives from the private sector.

Public confidence is essential

All participants of the open-door side-event agreed that high vaccine confidence is essential. Without confidence or trust, even the most well-functioning vaccination programme will not succeed. The questions of the growing anti-vaccine movement seem to be about the communication of the transparency, safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and the development process. Close cooperation with the public and private sector is needed and must be communicated to the public properly to address the growing vaccine scepticism. Public confidence could be further supported by public health authorities which is to consider exemption from liability from all parties involved in the whole vaccine development process, as well as no-fault compensation systems to efficiently address those who are affected by potential rare effects of  the Covid-19 vaccines. Finally, a strong European Health Union and creation of a European version of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to advance in the European pandemic preparedness would be crucial.

Mandatory or voluntary vaccination?

Another topic highlighted in the debate was whether vaccination for COVID-19 should be mandatory or voluntary in order to achieve the highest possible vaccination rates. As the experts pointed out, mandatory does not necessarily lead to higher vaccination as it depends on the broader societal context. Voluntary vaccination can also lead to high vaccination coverage, especially if it is accompanied by proper information campaigns. Sometimes the best message is national or even more locally dependent, so there is not per se a one size fits all approach. To conclude, the vaccination programme of the Covid-19 vaccine should be depoliticised and evidence-based and should be initiated by health authorities, only later to be endorsed by politicians.

Watch the whole debate here:

Key takeaways and policy recommendations are available below.