Debate on human health aspects of pandemic flu: Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, 8-9 December

December 12, 2005

Brussels, 9 December 2005

2699th Council Meeting - Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs
Brussels, 8-9 December 2005

Full text
of provisional version

The Council held a debate focusing on the need for clear and evidence-based information to the public and steps to be taken both at national and at EU level to prepare for a possible outbreak of human pandemic influenza.

The debate covered the following issues:

- Sharing of information and co-ordination (e.g. between Member States, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and with World Health Organisation) about the communication to the public about pandemic influenza.

- Specific contribution that Member States envisage that EU action, especially the research and development programmes, could make to prepare for a pandemic.

- Other specific actions at EU level that Member States believe would add value to work already in hand (for example through the World Health Organisation) to improve both production capacity, and speed of access to antivirals and vaccines.

At the close of the discussion, the Presidency summarised as follows:

The Presidency:

1. RECOGNISES the need to distinguish between avian influenza, where the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that the risk is very low for the general human population; seasonal influenza, which occurs every year but for which annual vaccination is available; and the risk of human pandemic influenza. Progress towards targets for vaccinating at-risk groups against seasonal influenza will also contribute to preparedness for any influenza pandemic through increasing vaccine production capacity.

2. RECOGNISES that scientific advice remains that the risk of avian influenza being directly transmitted to humans from birds is still very low at the present time.

3. RECOGNISES that the risks of avian influenza and pandemic influenza impact on a wide range of policy interests within the Council. As set out in previous Council Conclusions, a Presidency group has been established on avian and pandemic influenza to co-ordinate activities in the Council and ensure that all relevant policy interests are involved in Council discussions. Those Conclusions also set out international meetings that have taken place on this issue recently.

4. RECOGNISES that a vital first step in protecting human health from risk of pandemic is for Member States to complete their national plans in accordance with WHO guidelines. National plans also provide the foundation for international co-operation at a global and EU level.

5. RECOGNISES the important role of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in providing scientific advice to the European Commission and to Member States.

6. RECALLS that requirements already exist at EU level to collect surveillance information on influenza and to share this in a form that allows comparison across Europe. Member States are also committed to share with each other, the European Commission and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, information about action to protect human health from the risks of pandemic influenza.

7. NOTES the two Communications from the European Commission on generic preparedness planning for public health emergencies in the EU and influenza pandemic preparedness and response planning in the EU and looks forward to examining them in detail.

8. NOTES the importance of testing preparedness planning, and notes the preliminary conclusions from the European Commission on its Common Ground Exercise which indicated where there were areas of further development needed in preparedness planning across Europe.

9. NOTES the importance of Member States and the European Community implementing the International Health Regulations as a valuable step towards improving preparedness at both national and EU level and stresses its commitment to implement the International Health Regulations as quickly as possible.

10. NOTES the importance of strengthening co-ordination between Member States and the European Commission on a range of issues using, where possible, existing co-ordination mechanisms. Co-ordination does not bind Member States to take identical action across the European Union. Effective co-ordination on pandemic planning also needs to involve international organisations such as the WHO (and as appropriate organisations such as the FAO, OIE and the World Bank) in view of the global agenda on pandemic influenza control.

11. EMPHASIZES the need for clear and objective communications with the public to reduce the likelihood of confusing messages to the citizens of Europe. While risk communication for their citizens is primarily a Member State responsibility, there is a need for coordination between Members States and with the European Commission and in particular the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to avoid confusing messages, especially in situations where Member States decide to take different action to protect their populations from pandemic influenza.

12. AGREES that the need to build up production capacity for antivirals that will be required to maximise protection of populations is an urgent priority. Notes that this is primarily a matter for Member States but that there could be further actions at the EU level to help to address this; and notes that there should be further consideration of the available options for dealing with an outbreak including the feasibility and added value of the EU holding a targeted strategic stockpile of antivirals.

13. NOTES the importance of building up production capacity for vaccines and notes the importance of increasing the research effort into the development of new vaccines, in support of which the European R&D Framework programmes can play a valuable role.

14. CALLS UPON the European Commission to:

1) come forward with its proposals for rapid implementation of the Community aspects of the International Health Regulations as soon as possible;

2) strengthen the existing co-ordination mechanisms between Members States and the European Commission in close collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in ways that allow Member States to share information about proposed responses and to consider how to avoid confusing messages to the general public; and

3) consider proposals on further practical action that would add value at EU level to action at the national level and in international organisations, especially the WHO.

15. CALLS UPON MEMBER STATES to:

1) ensure that national planning is stepped up and completed;

2) to share with each other, and with the European Commission, information about the messages being given to the public about pandemic influenza and about action to protect human health from the risks of pandemic influenza; and

3) take action to implement the International Health Regulations as quickly as possible.

EU Council
News release 15201/05 (Presse 336)
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