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Childhood vaccine uptake slumps in England

MMR coverage at lowest level since 2011

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Childhood vaccine uptake has slumped in England, new figures show, with measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) at its lowest level since 2011.

The Childhood Vaccination Coverage Statistics for England 2017-18, released by NHS Digital, shows coverage declined in nine of the 12 routine vaccinations measured at ages 12 months, 24 months or five years in 2017-18 in England compared to the previous year. The decreases ranged in size from 0.1% to 0.6%.

Coverage for the MMR vaccine as measured at two years decreased in 2017-18 for the fourth year in a row. Coverage for this vaccine is now at 91.2%, the lowest it has been since 2011-12.

Other figures reveal that in 2017-18, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio (DTaP/IPV/Hib) coverage at 12 months declined for the fifth year in a row, decreasing 1.6% since 2012-13 and is at its lowest since 2008-09. However, coverage at 24 months has remained above the 95% target since 2009-10.

In addition to the 12 routine vaccination coverage figures reported last year, MenB coverage at 12 months is reported as a national statistic for the first time this year and achieved 92.5%, taking the total number of routine vaccination coverage figures reported in 2017-18 to 13.

The report also shows some regional variation, with levels of immunisation for all 13 routine childhood vaccinations reported as highest in the North East and lowest in London.

The statistics relate to routine vaccinations offered to all children up to the age of five years.

Responding to the figures, Helen Donovan, professional lead for public health at the Royal College of Nursing, called for improvements.

"For the first time last year, Britain was declared free of endemic measles, but these figures show we are turning the clock back and leaving thousands of children unprotected. Coverage for this vaccine is now at 91.2%, the lowest it has been since 2011, and this year we've seen more than 800 cases of measles in England alone.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. Coverage declined in nine out of 12 of the routine vaccination measures compared to last year. This means immunity against deadly or life-changing diseases such as tetanus, diphtheria and polio is dropping. These were diseases of the past - they should not be part of our future.

"Successful vaccination programmes require a system-wide approach, yet the changes to commissioning in 2012 left services fragmented. It is vital we understand the full reasons behind the decline in vaccination coverage and take steps to improve before it is too late.”

Commenting to OnMedica, Dr Michael Edelstein, consultant epidemiologist, Public Health England (PHE) said: “England is considered to be a world leader in childhood vaccination, with one of the most comprehensive programmes in the world. We are particularly pleased that coverage for the life-saving vaccine against group B meningoccal disease, published for the first time this year, is high.

“PHE research shows that parental confidence in the vaccine programme remains high which is reflected in the overall high rates of uptake across the vaccine programme.

“We are seeing small reductions in uptake for most of the childhood vaccines which is why we continue to encourage all parents to get the best protection for their children by ensuring they are fully immunised.

“We are working closely with the NHS, and with staff in general practice where most vaccinations are delivered, to improve uptake.”

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