European Commission presents proposal for Council Recommendations on the fight against cancer through vaccination.

CC – 02/2024

On 31 January, the European Commission published a proposal for Council Recommendations on vaccine-preventable cancers. The proposal centres on supporting the Member States of the European Union (EU) in preventing and reducing the risk of cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV). To this end, immunisation coverage rates are to be increased and vaccination rates better monitored. The initiative is based on the European Beating Cancer Plan, which aims to achieve an HPV vaccination rate of 90 % among girls and young women by 2030, and to vaccinate significantly more boys. The HBV vaccination rate is also to be increased.

HPV and HBV are carcinogenic viruses

HPV are viruses that infect the cells of the skin and mucous membranes. They are the main cause of cervical cancer. Every year, around 28,600 people in the European Economic Area (EEA) are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 13,700 die from it.

HBV are viruses that can cause an infection of the liver, which can be acute or chronic, and increases the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. In 2021, 30 EU and EEA countries reported 16,187 newly diagnosed HBV infections, of which a large proportion (43%) were classified as chronic.

Major differences in Europe

There are major differences within the EU, particularly in vaccination rates against HPV. In some EU Member States, the HPV vaccination rate for girls is 90 %, in others it is less than 50 %. There is currently only limited data available on immunisation coverage rates for boys and young adults. Data from a recent Cancer Inequality Study published by the OECD shows that more than 90 % of girls in Iceland, Portugal and Norway receive the recommended doses of the HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer - more than twice as many as in Bulgaria, France, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Latvia. Socio-economic inequalities can be observed for most risk factors, to the detriment of people with a lower level of education or income.

16 proposals for action

In its draft, the European Commission proposes 16 measures to better prevent infections with the carcinogenic HPV and HBV. The focus is on introducing or strengthening national vaccination programmes, including through the provision of free vaccinations and/or full reimbursement of vaccination costs for people for whom vaccination is recommended. In addition, access for particularly vulnerable and possibly disadvantaged groups is to be improved. Vaccination programmes in schools and educational institutions play an important role in this context.

To improve monitoring, Member States are encouraged to better integrate HPV and HBV vaccination into national cancer prevention programmes and ensure better links between vaccination and cancer registries. Another focus will be on increasing awareness, particularly by emphasising the benefits of vaccination to parents, young people and target groups, as well as combating misinformation and false information.

What about Germany?

Germany can also benefit from the proposed measures. In Germany, the HPV vaccination rates for a complete vaccination series are currently 54 % for 15-year-old girls and 27 % for boys. The German Social Insurance (DSV) therefore welcomes the European Commission's initiative. The German social security institutions support and finance the implementation of all vaccinations recommended by the Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) for their insured persons within the scope of their responsibility and provide information about them. In the case of the HPV vaccination, the health insurance companies even go beyond the STIKO recommendations in many cases. As part of the social security institutions' commitment to prevention, numerous projects that provide information and draw attention to protection options, particularly in schools and the workplace, are also supported. The DSV had already taken a position on this in its feedback in February 2023.

The Commission's proposal for the Council Recommendations will now be submitted to the Council of the EU. The Council plans to formally adopt the non-binding Council recommendations in the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 21 June.