COVID-19 vaccination

COVID-19 vaccines aim to prevent COVID-19 disease by triggering an immune response. Safe and efficacious vaccines are a powerful tool in ensuring public health, and their availability is a significant milestone in efforts to control the pandemic. 

COVID-19 vaccines are developed following the same legal requirements for quality, safety and efficacy as for all other vaccines. The effects of COVID-19 vaccines are tested first in the laboratory, including in animals, and then in human volunteers.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) evaluates COVID-19 vaccines against the same high standards as for all other vaccines before they are authorised for use in the EU by the European Commission. EMA also monitors any side effects and adverse reactions in people who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

ECDC works closely with the EU/EEA countries and the European Commission to monitor the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, support preparedness activities and provide an overview of vaccination deployment strategies and plans. As more people get vaccinated, the effectiveness and impact of COVID-19 vaccines will be monitored through extensive studies.

Prioritisation of target groups for vaccination

It is important to carefully plan and prioritise target groups for vaccination. This is because the scope of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns is unprecedented, the production and roll-out of vaccines takes time and resources, and scientific knowledge regarding the impact of vaccination is limited early in vaccination campaigns, as is the supply of vaccines. In the first phases of vaccination, the main objectives are reducing mortality and morbidity in populations most at risk and protecting the resilience of health systems.

Groups primarily prioritised for COVID vaccination in the EU/EEA include elderly people, with various age cut-offs across countries; residents and personnel in long-term care facilities; healthcare workers; social care personnel; and people with health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe disease. Some countries also prioritise workers in essential public services.

When prioritising available vaccine doses, most countries have opted to prioritise vaccination for those most at risk of severe disease as well as healthcare workers.

National vaccine deployment planning in EU/EEA

Strategic and adaptable planning is key to managing the unprecedented task of rolling out COVID-19 vaccination across large populations with several vaccines that have various logistical requirements and may be in limited supply. ECDC supports this endeavour by regularly capturing existing information, enabling the sharing of knowledge and providing insights into the challenges and lessons learned while implementing national deployment plans in the EU/EEA.

Vaccination roll-out and progress tracker 

Following the conditional marketing authorisation and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in the EU/EEA, vaccination campaigns are ongoing in all countries. To monitor the progress of vaccination efforts across the EU/EEA, ECDC has set up a monitoring system for the collection of key vaccine roll-out indicators. These data are available through the COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, an interactive dashboard that provides the latest data reported by EU/EEA countries, and weekly reports.

Vaccination preparedness and stress-test exercises

The successful deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and their roll-out at a national scale involves complex logistics and ensuring that infrastructure is in place, supported by an adaptable strategy, planning and communication.

To support preparedness for COVID-19 vaccine deployment, ECDC has organised short and focused simulation exercises on the readiness of participating Member States. These exercises sought to understand if there are mechanisms in place to coordinate the vaccination campaign, with clear lines of command, processes to receive, store and allocate vaccines to vaccination sites, and if a vaccination delivery strategy and proactive as well as reactive communication plans are available.

The aim of this ‘stress test’ exercise was to assist participants in assessing their preparedness for the deployment of vaccines, identifying gaps and follow-up actions.

Monitoring of vaccine effectiveness, impact, and safety

Once vaccines are rolled out in the population, their continuous monitoring in real life starts. Assessing effectiveness, safety and impact of COVID-19 vaccines is key to ensuring that the vaccines function as expected, picking up any possible safety signals and informing if vaccination strategies or  non-pharmaceutical measures need adapting.

The EU Commission Communication of 15 October 2020 outlines future joint work by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and ECDC to prepare participation in large-scale EU-wide effectiveness and safety monitoring studies in relation to COVID-19.

In accordance with their mandates, ECDC takes the lead on the study of the effectiveness of the vaccines and EMA monitors their safety.

Data collected will allow action to be taken where needed and the fine-tuning of vaccination strategies, as well as informing and reassuring the public. Post-authorisation monitoring of vaccines is normal practice and has been carried out in the past, both at country and EU level. ECDC has extensive experience in this field and has performed vaccine effectiveness studies with a broad geographic representation over the last decade, mostly focusing on studies related to seasonal influenza, pneumococcal and pertussis vaccines.

EU/EEA NITAGs collaboration on vaccination strategies

Regular sharing of information and collaboration among national bodies and expert groups that provide evidence-based recommendations for decisions on COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination in EU/EEA countries is taking place via a collaboration network coordinated by ECDC, the EU/EEA network of National Immunisation Technical Advisory Groups (NITAGs).