Call to parents to make sure children are up to date with immunisations

Inaccurate and misleading anti-vaccination messages on social mediaare thought to be one reason why vaccination rates are plummeting.
Inaccurate and misleading anti-vaccination messages on social mediaare thought to be one reason why vaccination rates are plummeting.

Parents are being reminded to make sure their children are up to date with their routine vaccinations after it was revealed that there has been a slight decline in uptake for childhood immunisations.

PHE Yorkshire and the Humber say that latest figures show that the percentage of children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) by the second birthday in the region decreased in 2017/18.

Figures also fell for the 6-in-1 vaccine within the same age group in the same five-year-period within the region. The 6-in-1 vaccine protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis and Haemophilus influenzae type b[Hib].

The call comes as part of World Health Organization (WHO) ‘s European Immunisation Week (April 24 – April 30), which aims to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccination and celebrate the “vaccine heroes” who contribute in so many ways to protect lives.

Dr Sally Eapen Simon, Screening and Immunisation Lead for Public Health England and NHS England in Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “In the UK we have a world-leading vaccination programme with vaccine uptake rates in England currently among the highest in Europe. However, there has been a small, steady decline in infant vaccination uptake since 2013 and we are still seeing outbreaks, sometimes serious, of diseases that can be prevented by vaccines.

“Measles and mumps outbreaks occurring in the past year in Yorkshire and the Humber are a stark reminder that these diseases are still around today, and if children or adolescents are unvaccinated, they are at greater risk.

"Vaccine heroes in the NHS are doing amazing work day in and day out but it’s down to all of us to continue in our efforts to make sure children are offered vital protection against the risk of serious illness.”

Despite the year-on-year decline in uptake, latest quarterly data from PHE could be beginning to show early signs of a reversal, though it’s too early to predict what final annual uptake figures may show.

The latest quarterly data suggests that vaccine coverage at 12 months of age increased by 0.4-0.9% for all vaccines compared with the previous quarter. This follows slow declines in uptake since 2012-13. According to research by the Royal Society of Public Health these small drops may be due to timing, availability and location of appointments.

PHE is urging all healthcare staff to speak confidently about the ‘value of vaccines’ as parents view them as the most trusted source of advice on immunisation.

Head of Immunisations at Public Health England, Dr Mary Ramsay, said: “We are very lucky in England to have one of the most comprehensive programmes in the world and it is really great to see that parents trust our programme and most children are benefitting from this offer.

“We know from our history that inaccurate claims about the safety and effectiveness can lead to doubts about vaccines - putting people at risk of serious illness. It’s vital that all websites and social media platforms ensure accurate coverage of public health issues like vaccination.

“But, we also know that there are other factors which affect vaccine uptake, such as sending out reminders and making GP appointments as convenient as possible – these things will make the biggest difference in reducing numbers of children not getting vaccinated.”

“We cannot be complacent, as even small groups of children missing out on or delaying their vaccines leaves them and others vulnerable to serious or even fatal infections.”

The call also comes as Unicef revealed that there are over half a million children in the UK that haven't been vaccinated against measles.

The charity is warning that increasing numbers of youngsters are being left unprotected against the highly infectious illness, which can cause disability and death. Inaccurate and misleading anti-vaccination messages on social media are thought to be one reason why vaccination rates are plummeting.

Unicef’s analysis shows that an estimated 169 million children around the world missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017 – an average of 21.1 million a year. A list of 10 high-income countries shows the US has the highest number of children (2.6 million) missing out on their first dose of the vaccine, followed by France with 608,000 unvaccinated children over the same time period and then the UK, with 527,000.

Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive said: “Getting yourself and your children vaccinated against killer diseases is essential to staying healthy, and vaccine rejection is a serious and growing public health timebomb. With measles cases almost quadrupling in England in just one year, it is grossly irresponsible for anybody to spread scare stories about vaccines, and social media firms should have a zero tolerance approach towards this dangerous content.”

Two doses

Children need two doses of the MMR vaccine for full protection against measles, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending 95 per cent coverage to achieve herd immunity, which offers protection against the disease spreading in the community.

In the UK in 2017 there were 259 measles cases in England, rising to 966 in 2018. In 2016 and 2017, uptake of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in five-year-olds in the UK exceeded 95 per cent for the first time. However, uptake of the second dose of MMR in five-year-old children is 88 per cent – well below target.

Helen Bedford, Professor of Child Public Health, Institute of Child Health, University College London (UCL), said: “While more work is needed to ensure a similar high uptake of two doses of MMR to ensure best protection against measles, vaccine confidence is high and vaccination is seen as the normal thing to do.”

Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said: “The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”