RIVER-EU General Assembly meeting in November 2023: Moving on to implementation!

RIVER-EU held its annual General Assembly in Dublin on 8 November 2023. Project partners (joined by Advisory Board member for ethics, Bobbie Farsides), convened to review the work accomplished over the past 2.5 years and strategize for upcoming project activities. Danielle Jansen and Hanneke Vervoort from the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), the RIVER-EU project coordinators, chaired the meeting. This article provides a summary of the updates shared during the General Assembly.

Prof. Michael Edelstein from Bar Ilan University (BIU), Deputy Project Leader, opened the meeting by commending the consortium on its significant achievements since the last gathering in November 2022 in Berlin. The project progressed from identifying health system barriers to vaccine uptake in eight specific contexts to developing interventions to address selected barriers. At the end of 2023, preparations for the implementation phase are in the final stages.

Prof. Edelstein highlighted a key learning from research conducted in 2023: a better understanding of the transferability of interventions across different contexts. This will be integral to successful implementation across pilot sites. It is also a key element of the comprehensive, evidence based guidelines that the project will develop, which aim to facilitate the removal of health system barriers to immunization among underserved communities.

Each of the implementing sites in Greece, Netherlands, Poland, and Slovakia presented the tailored interventions they will pilot to increase MMR and HPV vaccine uptake among their selected population group(s). Implementation and evaluation of the interventions will occur in 2024 and 2025. Descriptions of the implementation sites, selected interventions, target populations, and collaborating partners, will be available on the www.river-eu.org website in the first half of 2024.

In the past year, lead researcher Tamara Schloemer from the University of Maastricht (WP3, “Development or adjustment of tailored interventions”), guided partners through a co-creation process to identify transferable intervention elements and requisite adaptations. During the meeting, results from the transferability assessment of available vaccination interventions were shared. Tamara explained the methodological framework used to assess the interventions and their potential for transfer, called Population-Intervention-Environment-Transfer Model of Transferability (PIET-T) (see figure here).

In addition, Dr Janine de Zeeuw, a researcher at UMCG, outlined the planned work concerning cost-effectiveness analysis of HPV and/or MMR vaccination, focusing on estimating real-world cost-effectiveness for HPV and MMR on population and subgroup levels in the participating countries.

The sustainability of project outcomes was a critical discussion point during the meeting. Dr Barbara Rath, Chair of the Vaccine Safety Initiative (ViVI), presented progress on Work Package 6 (WP6, “Strengthening Education and Knowledge on Immunisation”). Dr Rath provided an update on the SEKI platform, an evolving resource providing curated training for European health professionals. This platform aims to ensure RIVER-EU’s outcomes contribute to lasting changes by enhancing the leadership and capacities of health professionals to implement community-centred solutions.

Lead by EuroHealthNet (WP7, “Communication and Dissemination”), consortium partners also discussed strategies to promote project learnings, planning continued engagement with various European projects (e.g. PartnERship to contrast HPV, JITSUVAX , RISE-Vac, AcToVax4NAM, Coalition for Vaccination, ImmuHubs, VAX-TRUST), international and local organisations and initiatives, European Commission and WHO/Europe aiming for maximum impact.

During the meeting partners agreed on several follow up meetings for the start of the year. They also delivered a workshop “A participatory approach to identifying vaccine uptake interventions with underserved communities” at the subsequent European Public Health Conference, held from 8-11 November in Dublin.