Health professionals remain parents’ most trusted source of advice on immunisation, with social media coming last, and parental confidence in the immunisation programme and coverage for most childhood vaccines is high, according to the latest report* from Public Health England (PHE). It promised more support for doctors and nurses whom it called “UK vaccine heroes”.
PHE has analysed the results of a total of 1,674 interviews (households) among parents of children aged 0-4 years, which included 1,050 parents of 0-2 year olds and 1,000 parents of 3-4 year olds (376 parents had a child in both age groups). The survey results showed that health professionals remain the most trusted source of advice on immunisation (93% of parents agreed), compared with social media and the internet which ranked as the least trusted sources of information.
It also found that overall, only 9% of parents have seen, read or heard about something that would make them doubt having their child immunised – which PHE noted is “a historically low proportion” and down from a third (33%) of parents surveyed in 2002.
When parents were asked what they had come across in the past year, most (86%) of those who reported seeing or hearing information about vaccines said the messages were in support of immunisation. Only 4% said the information was against vaccination.
Of the small number of parents (n=143) who said they had seen information to make them doubt having their child immunised, more than a third 35% had seen this on the internet and 14% mentioned social media and 13% mentioned Facebook as the main source. The main topic that parents cited that might have persuaded them not to immunise their child was information relating to side-effects of vaccines.
PHE reported that parental confidence in the immunisation programme is "very high", and the percentage of parents refusing one or more of their child’s vaccines remains very low at only 4%. It noted that for those parents who didn’t vaccinate when due, most had simply postponed rather than refused vaccination. It said vaccine coverage remains high for most childhood vaccines; and the latest quarterly data suggest that vaccine coverage at 12 months of age increased by 0.4-0.9% for all vaccines compared with the previous quarter, following slow declines in uptake since 2012-13.
But it said it remains important that all those working in healthcare speak confidently about the value of vaccines and “support the vaccine heroes – those GPs and nurses who are on the frontline”. PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie said: “In a world where misinformation is so easily spread online we must all speak confidently about the value of vaccines and leave the public in no doubt that they are safe and save lives.
“It’s testament to our hard-working doctors and nurses that families trust them to provide accurate facts about the effectiveness of vaccines. They’re our vaccine heroes and we all have a role in supporting them.”
PHE head of immunisations Dr Mary Ramsay added: “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.”
She went on: “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.”
*Cover of vaccination evaluated rapidly (COVER) programme 2018 to 2019: quarterly data. A report prepared by Public Health England, March 2019.