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The Second National Conference on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases was opened. Over three days of intensive work and information sharing, sixty lecturers and speakers covered a wide range of fascinating topics, drawing in an attendance of over 300 delegates. During the event, we witnessed many new studies and shared information, useful discussions were formed and proposals and challenges were addressed to the institutions related to health care in Bulgaria. This forum was important for realizing the complications in the system and taking serious steps towards improving vaccine prevention in the country.


“We seem to be living in a century of infectious diseases, so events like this are very important. This year, the Astra Forum Foundation has adopted a green policy regarding the event, trying to minimize the use of single-use plastic bottles, cups and plates. By avoiding plastic, we ensure a reduction in our carbon footprint and demonstrate our concern for nature. I appeal to each of you to think and act in this green direction”.

Assoc. Mihail Okoliyski, deputy minister in the Ministry of Health, reminded us that vaccination is one of the greatest achievements of the nation. “During COVID-19, people forgot that the whole society gets protection through vaccines. It is our duty to explain to people how important it is to pay attention to innovative practices in vaccine prevention and not to allow a negative perspective that compromises good achievements”. Prof. Okoloiski announced that the Ministry of Health managed to develop a website for topics related to vaccine prevention in 3 months.

“Today we are here to celebrate historic achievements,” welcomed Christina de Bruin – UNICEF representative for Bulgaria. She recalled that vaccines have been saving lives for two centuries. “Vaccines are one of the stories of humanity, and thanks to them, many serious diseases have been eradicated.” Christina de Bruin stated that nowadays, the world is once again at a crossroads. She presented data from the UNICEF report on the state of vaccines among children. “2.5 million children have missed vaccines. There are 327,000 children who have not received a single vaccine.”.

Dr. Siddhartha Data from the WHO European Office also delivered welcoming remarks. “History shows that we feel how important and valuable vaccines are only when we are faced with an infectious disease. Bulgaria’s victory over polio is an achievement, but we should not be complacent because viruses are all around us. We at WHO are well aware of the high benefit of vaccines, which is why WHO has started an important regional project”.

“For the first time the European Commission is putting cancer first,” said Mike Morrissey of the European Cancer Organisation. “We must continue to fight cancer“.

Cervical cancer is preventable thanks to the HPV vaccine. Morrissey reminded that a wonderful coalition was created in Bulgaria – the HPV Coalition. “We are here to help the organization you have created. We expect the fight to reduce HPV infection to intensify.”

Prof. Iva Hristova, director of the Scientific Committee of the Second National Conference, announced that the event is enjoying increasing interest and that she is looking forward to the third edition of the conference. “We see nowadays how vaccine prevention is approaching vaccine therapy, and this is actually the future. I am convinced that the interesting topics we have selected for the event will generate important discussions.”.


Assoc. Angel Kunchev started the third panel with the topic “Regulatory and organizational issues in vaccine prevention”. “I am very pleased with the topic that the organizers have assigned me, because the participants in this panel will say things clearly enough and raise the main issues that we are fighting for”.

“When I was invited to the Second Conference on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, I thought – is there anything new to talk about, what new things are we going to say? The truth is that the discussion in the first two panels was very lively and different, everyone talked about the same problems, but looked at them from different sides”, noted Assoc. Kunchev.

Dr. Alexander Simidchiev from the Health Commission of the National Assembly highlighted a significant issue, noting a serious discrepancy between the Parliament’s expectations and its actions. He pointed out that in our country, there are laws with changes spanning only three pages. Why do we modify something so extensively without considering a restart and the recreation of the laws?’”he questioned

Dr. Simidchiev presented the proposal to divide health care into two – hospital care and prevention. “Also, one of the things I suggested a while ago is that patients should not only have rights, but at least 9 duties, the first of which is to obligate the patient to tell only the truth to their doctor. This met with serious resistance”.

The panel discussed making the HPV vaccine mandatory by law rather than regulation.

On the second day, the forum started with the Epidemiology and Public Health panel.


Prof. Radostina Alexandrova presented the topic “Climate changes, infectious diseases, vaccines and challenges for human health”.

Here are the main highlights of her lecture:

– the average temperature of the Earth’s surface increased by 0.74 °C during the 20th century;

– sea level is rising by 1.8 mm per year since 1961;

– arctic sea ice is shrinking by 2.7% per decade.

Prof. Alexandrova noted that 2023 is the hottest year in history. This year’s October was the warmest October globally, according to data from European climate scientists published on Wednesday (08/11/2023) “The period from 2023 to 2027 is expected to be the warmest five-year period on record sometime“. The wasvirologist was reminded that climate change is recognized by the WHO as an important driver of emerging problems threatening food and feed safety, plant, animal and human health.


“Many people are asking what to do from now on after COVID-19 – well, life goes on. What I think is that the vaccine is not perfect, but it reduces the chance of meeting the virus”, said Prof. Radostina Alexandrova at the Second National Conference on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.

During the Epidemiology and Public Health panel discussion, a question arose as to whether the COVID-19 virus was created in a laboratory or came from a bat in Wuhan.

Prof. Alexandrova explained that there are 10 viruses of the 31st degree on the planet. “If we arrange them in a row, we will get a huge, immeasurable amount, which will be bigger than the stars in the galaxy.“

According to her, most viruses come from the animal world. “These are viruses that circulate somewhere and cross the species barrier at some point. No one needs to create new viruses, it happens naturally. Scientists had discovered viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 in animals several years before the emergence of COVID-19 in humans. Instead of believing in conspiracy theories, we’d better invest in science”.


How important communication is and how important it is for the doctor to know the types of patients – these were the main highlights of the lecture “Communication skills for increasing vaccine coverage” by Ivaylo Kunev.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just be a good doctor, the patient has to be able to understand that.”

He presented the thesis of the famous Jordan Peterson, who says that over 70% of his patients do not adhere to their therapy, which in itself means that “people do not like themselves so much that they want to kill themselves.”

“If we catch a patient who is not adhering to their therapy, but we tell them to take care of their cat or their dog – certainly they will not miss a vaccination pattern for their dog, and they will not miss the pill at the right time for their cat. It’s like people don’t love themselves”.


Elena Papudjieva presented the newly created association “HPV Coalition”, whose mission is to prevent the spread of HPV-related diseases, to protect public health and the future of the nation.  Members of the Coalition are: Prof. Radka Argirova, Dr. Antoineta Tomova, Assoc. Dr. Yordanka Uzunova, Assoc. Dr. Iliya Karagyozov, Dr. Gergana Nikolova, Dr. Hristina Bacelova, Dr. Elena Papudzhieva and Rosyana Hristova,  Dr. Momchil Baev, Prof. Ivaylo Turnev, Plamena Nikolova, Dr. Radosveta Stamenkova, Assoc. Hristina Lebanova.

Prof. Dr. Ivanka Dimova from MU Sofia stated, ‘Bulgaria holds a prominent position in terms of HPV incidence. Vaccination has the potential to significantly reduce the prevalence of HPV-related cancers in the future. However, not everyone opts for vaccination, leaving some individuals unprotected. A crucial step for the future is to alter the testing protocol; specifically, to first test cervical cells for HPV and then analyze them under a microscope. This seemingly small change can yield a substantial impact: research indicates that it can save more lives compared to existing programs. This approach is endorsed in the latest WHO recommendations,’ emphasized Prof. Dimova

In a discussion panel dedicated to HPV, Prof. Argirova explained that there are more than 200 HPV viruses, but 14 of them can cause cancer or pre-cancerous disease.


“There is a way to protect ourselves from these diseases – by getting vaccinated.  But this is not vaccination against flu, but a thought for our future ahead and an investment in the next generations”, believes Argirova.


It has been revealed that vaccination coverage in Bulgaria is currently only at 3%. According to the professor, the primary reason for this low immunization rate lies with the doctors. “We need to improve our communication with people. The major shortcoming of doctors in Bulgaria is their inability to effectively communicate with patients. Both NGOs and the Ministry need to make concerted efforts. It’s crucial for everyone involved to take responsibility. I advocate for prevention not only being the responsibility of the Ministry but of the entire society. Let’s include teachers and employers in these efforts”


“Using human cytomegalovirus (HCMV) as a vector is another promising approach to create an HIV vaccine”, explained Prof. Radka Argirova during the Second National Conference on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases.

 “Non-human primates vaccinated with the CMV/SIV vector induce a persistent and splenic SIV-specific memory T-cell response.”

“This response was associated with sustained aviremic control of SIV infection in 5% of NHPs, and this control correlated with the CD8+ T-cell response.”

 Prof. Argirova explained that the first clinical trial for the safety and immunogenicity of an HCMV vector vaccine – VIR-1111 – is already recruiting healthy CMV seropositive participants.


The conference touched on current issues, gathered leading specialists and their ideas for improving public health in one place.

 Thank you to everyone who gave up their time and dedicated these three days to science!  We are waiting for you at the III National Conference on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases!

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