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UKHSA: More preventable diseases will re-emerge without vaccination uptake boost

UKHSA: More preventable diseases will re-emerge without vaccination uptake boost

Uptake of childhood vaccinations in England remains too low, say public health experts responding to the latest quarterly data.

And unless uptake improves, there is likely to be re-emergence of more vaccine-preventable diseases, they have warned.

Figures from the COVER programme which monitors vaccine uptake at one, two and five years showed that at 24 months, coverage for some immunisations still falls below 90%.

For the last three months of 2023, there were small drops in uptake for a range of vaccines. The 6-in-1 vaccine in England fell to 92.8% and MMR, combined haemophilus influenzae type b and meningitis C, pneumococcal and meningitis B vaccine are all between 87% and 88% the figures show.

Small increases were seen in the pre-school booster and MMR for children aged five years but at 85% both are far under the target needed for herd immunity.

With the exception of rotavirus vaccination, figures were a bit higher for vaccinations in children aged one year and had either remained level of increased slightly, the report said.

When London was taken out of the equation in the English figures, 92% coverage was seen for all vaccines except rotavirus by the age of 12 months, it found.

But uptake in Scotland and Wales remains higher with at least 94% coverage for most vaccines in one-year-olds and 92% for two-year-olds.

It follows a recent survey from the UK Health Security Agency, which found that the majority of parents have confidence in the NHS programme, with 89% agreeing that vaccines work, are safe (84%) and trusted (82%).

UKHSA officials said while the latest vaccine data was fairly stable the ‘consistent decline’ in uptake of childhood immunisations over the past decade was concerning.

Parents should not wait for an outbreak, such as that seen recently in the West Midlands where a national incident was declared over rising measles cases, before vaccinating their children, they said.

The latest figures show another 79 confirmed cases of measles in the past week with officials concerned about rising rates in London. Since October there have been 868 confirmed cases in England, two thirds of which have been in children under the age of 10 years.

A national marketing campaign to encourage parents to immunise their children was launched earlier this month.

There are also ongoing catch-up campaigns for both children and young adults who may have missed out on vaccination when they were infants.

Almost one million adults aged 19 to 25 in England have been invited to book an MMR vaccination appointment because they did not have it when they were children.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA, said: ‘If children aren’t vaccinated, they’re not protected. So it’s concerning that uptake has stabilised at such low levels in the final months of 2023.

‘We call on parents to help us reverse the downward trend we’ve seen over the past decade. If we can achieve the World Health Organization’s target of 95% coverage we can prevent these infections coming back.

‘We are asking parents not to wait until measles is on your doorstep and to remember the impact that these illnesses can have on children, young people and even adults.

‘Unless action is taken and uptake improves, we are likely to see the diseases that these vaccines prevent against re-emerging.’

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication Pulse

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