United Against Cancer: RIVER-EU’s drive for vaccine equity alongside the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan

the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan

In the battle against cancer, equitable access to vaccines is a cornerstone of prevention. Vaccines offer safe and effective protection against viral infections like Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) and Human Papillomavirus (HPV), linked to cancers such as cervical, anogenital, head and neck, and liver cancer. Delivering on its promise to win the race against cancer, on January 31st, 2024, the European Commission proposed to the Council to adopt recommendation aimed at bolstering HPV and HBV vaccination uptake. This proposal includes several recommendations:

  1. removing financial and health system barriers,
  2. integrating vaccination into national cancer plans,
  3. rebuilding public’s confidence in vaccination through targeted communication,
  4. enhancing surveillance and registry mechanisms,
  5. establishing concrete vaccine coverage targets, and
  6. facilitating the exchange of best practices among Member States.

RIVER-EU, bringing vaccine equity

At RIVER-EU, our mission aligns closely with these objectives. We aim to reduce HPV and MMR vaccine inequalities in underserved European communities by adopting a participatory approach and engaging local stakeholders. Our focus is on eliminating health system barriers through tailored interventions. These interventions primarily aim to:

  1. raise awareness,
  2. address community concerns, common beliefs, and misconceptions,
  3. break communication barriers, and
  4. empower healthcare professionals with culturally sensitive skills.

Ultimately, our project will generate guidelines beneficial to all EU Member States, improve vaccination communication quality and share best practices. Our efforts support the Commission’s initiatives by addressing health inequalities within countries.

Standing together

Other initiatives operating on regional and global scales complement and reinforce our efforts. Initiatives such as the “The PartnERship to Contrast HPV” (PERCH), PROTECT-EUROPE, ReThinkHPVaccination and Viral Hepatitis COMmunity Screening, Vaccination, and Care (VH-COMSAVAC) focus on eliminating cancers related to HPV and viral hepatitis infections within Europe. Globally, efforts like the Global HPV consortium and HPV Vaccine Acceleration Program Partners Initiative (HAPPI) Consortium also target HPV-related cancers. Together, these collaborative endeavours strengthen our work to combat cancer and ensure equitable access to life-saving vaccines, demonstrating the power of collective action amidst challenges.

How the proposal for a Council recommendation on vaccine-preventable cancers came about?

The European Commission steps forward

Uncoordinated measures across Europe at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the impact it had on everyone’s personal, professional, and social life. The European Commission – the European institution empowered to initiate legislation – reacted to these disjointed responses by proposing the European Health Union in 2020. It aimed to overcome public health fragmentation and enhance the pooling of resources and expertise across the EU. This initiative focused not only on strengthening crisis management and preparedness, but also on broader public health concerns. One of the key pillars of the Health Union is the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan.

What is Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan?

Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan was born out of a renewed focus on health within the EU. Studies have underscored the urgency of action, projecting a 24% increase by 2035 in cancer cases without intervention, potentially making cancer the leading cause of death in Europe.1 Responding to appeals from the European Parliament, the Commission prepared this proposal. The Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan stands out for its all-encompassing approach, backed by a €4 billion budget, the largest budget ever allocated to cancer initiatives. The plan advocates for a whole-of society approach, spanning prevention, early detection, quality care, and support for cancer patients and survivors. However, some of its more controversial proposals, such as those addressing commercial determinants of health like tobacco and alcohol, have been delayed. The plan also seeks to diminish cancer inequalities across the EU and leverage innovation and technology to transform cancer care. For that end, European Cancer Inequalities Registry has been established as well to pinpoint trends, disparities, and inequalities between Member States.

Prevention at the centre of attention

Prevention not only averts or delays future social, mental, and economic costs but also saves lives. Studies suggest that 40% of cancer cases in the EU could be prevented1 , yet only a small fraction, 5%, of total health spending goes toward prevention efforts2. Continuing to take forward the full range of initiatives in the Plan – such as to improve health literacy, tighten tobacco regulation, reduce alcohol consumption, promote healthy diets and physical activity, minimize environmental pollutants, and prevent infections that can lead to cancer – would ensure the greatest impact and sustainability of the plan’s objectives over the long-term.

RIVER-EU fully supports the European Commission’s proposal on vaccine-preventable cancers and urges the Council to prioritize these recommendations and swiftly take action. While we’re already working diligently to reduce vaccine inequalities, we emphasize the need for legal frameworks and political support to drive effective change. RIVER-EU stands ready to assist with implementation efforts, ensuring equitable access to life-saving vaccines across Europe.

  1. Communication: Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan (2021). European Commission.
    https://commission.europa.eu/document/download/cb57f24d-fd55-439f-a85c-338857825853_en ↩︎
  2. Beating cancer inequalities in the EU. (2024). OECD Health Policy Studies.
    https://doi.org/10.1787/14fdc89a-en ↩︎