Nursing students should be given a ‘greater role’ in delivering vaccines to help support childhood immunisation targets, an influential committee of MPs has suggested.
A new report from the Health and Social Care Committee, which comes as part of an enquiry into prevention in healthcare, warned that the UK was at risk of losing its position as a global leader on vaccination.
The document draws on data from NHS Digital data which shows that England did not meet the 95% target for any routine childhood immunisations in 2021/22 and that England saw coverage rates ‘consistently below’ the UK average.
Those behind the report called for ‘a more flexible delivery model’ to deliver vaccinations, to overcome practical challenges over times or locations, and also stressed the need to address ‘bureaucratic processes’ in setting up clinical trials.
‘To ensure that nobody misses out on vital vaccine protection because of practical challenges such as convenient times or locations, a more flexible delivery model, that makes the most of the wide range of healthcare professionals, is needed,’ the report added.
The committee recommended that the government carries out a consultation on ‘whether to amend the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 to give medical and nursing students, and recently retired staff, a greater role in routine immunisation’.
Currently student nurses are able to administer vaccinations but only ‘if they have been properly educated and trained, and deemed to be competent to do so in line with their standards of proficiency’, according to NMC assistant director of professional practice Anne Trotter.
Mr Trotter told Nursing in Practice that it was ‘up to the government to decide whether to engage students in that activity, including having the necessary indemnity insurance in place and ensuring students continue to prioritise their learning and successfully complete all other requirements of their nursing programme’.
During the pandemic the government passed the Human Medicines (Coronavirus and Influenza) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 which expanded the workforce legally allowed to deliver vaccinations.
The committee claimed that the wide range of people mobilised to deliver immunisation was ‘fundamental’ to the success of the Covid-19 vaccine programme and that these lessons ‘cannot be forgotten when considering routine immunisation’.
The publication comes against a backdrop of falling rates for routine immunisation and a mounting risk of widespread measles outbreaks in London and across the UK.
Speaking to the committee the UK Health Security Agency said that London ‘could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases’ as a consequence.
Steve Brine, MP and chair of the health and Social Care committee, said that this warning and a recent spike of cases in the West Midlands should be a ‘massive wake-up call’.
‘Vaccination is the one of the greatest success stories when it comes to preventing infection,’ said Mr Brine.
‘However, unless the government addresses challenges around declining rates among childhood immunisations and implements reform on clinical trials, the UK’s position as a global leader on vaccination risks being lost.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We take child health very seriously and it is important that everyone takes up the vaccinations to which they are entitled for themselves, their families and wider society.
‘The UK has a world-leading offer and a national marketing campaign was launched in February 2022 to encourage uptake of both doses of the MMR vaccine in children under the age of five years, with an MMR catch-up campaign launched in October 2022.’