"Vaccination not only prevents diseases and thus promotes the well-being of the population, but also contributes directly and indirectly to 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals", stressed Sara Cerdas, public health doctor and, since 2019, Member of the European Parliament, at the opening of the 6th International Conference promoted by NOVA Health and dedicated to the challenges of vaccination through life.
As keynote speaker at the event, which took place on the 20th at the rectory of the NOVA University in Lisbon, Sara Cerdas also highlighted the important role of science in helping society to face "the great challenge of vaccine hesitancy".
A very topical issue - as seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, when there were differences of around 30% between Member States - set the tone for the meeting, which focused on the various obstacles to promoting vaccination at all stages of life, research into innovative vaccine formulations and the development of new approaches, among other things.
"Vaccination has challenges and solutions, but it also has controversies, and knowing how to overcome them is a question of paramount importance today," stressed IHMT - NOVA researcher Tiago Correia, who heads the project "VAX-ACTION: tackling vaccine hesitancy effectively in Europe", recently selected for European funding.
Stressing that this is not a new problem, Tiago Correia believes that there is a growing polarisation - "for every understanding, for every benefit that is pointed out, we are confronted with the opposite" - which makes the issue not only academic but also political.
In a world of misinformation, the problem takes on a different dimension: "There is no single profile of hesitant people. They live in both high- and low-income countries, and there are many factors that determine how they respond to vaccines: their lifestyle, their experience, their gender, their age, their level of education," he said. Hence the complexity of the problem," he explained. The solution, according to the IHMT-NOVA researcher, is to "improve communication with the population and also to train health professionals to deal with these issues".
At the end of the meeting, Margarida Tavares, Secretary of State for Health Promotion, acknowledged that after 58 years of the National Vaccination Programme, there is still a long way to go, and that it concerns us all.
"Throughout history, vaccines have proven to be one of the most effective tools in preventing diseases and their consequences. They have saved and continue to save countless lives in many parts of the world. By being ambassadors for immunization, we are also building a bond of solidarity and bridging the generation gap. Vaccination empowers us and makes health promotion and protection a real possibility for everyone.
At the end of the event, the prize for the best poster presented at the conference was awarded to "Computational approach for the discovery of small molecule inhibitors of the PD-1/PD-L1, immune checkpoint in dendritic cell-based vaccines for cancer improved immunotherapies", with Patrícia Sobral as first author.