Routine child vaccination coverage rates fall
Author: Adrian O'Dowd
Coverage rates for all 13 routine childhood vaccinations administered to children under the age of five fell in England in 2018-19 compared to the previous year, according to a report published today by NHS Digital.
The Childhood Vaccination Coverage Statistics report, co-authored with Public Health England, contains information on vaccinations measured at the ages of 12 months, 24 months and five years.
Overall, they show decreases in coverage ranging from 0.2 to 1.0 percentage points between 2017-18 and 2018-19.
For the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, coverage for the first dose of the vaccine among children aged 24 months has dropped from 91.2% in 2017-18 to 90.3% in 2018-19 despite the target of 95% coverage being set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
This is the fifth consecutive year that MMR coverage in England has fallen, following a peak in 2013-14. The figures show that there has been a drop of 2.3 percentage points over the last five years.
Regional data shows a fall in MMR vaccine coverage in almost all – eight of the nine – English regions in 2018-19 compared to the previous year.
Coverage was the same for the North East region, which had the highest level of coverage in both years at 94.5% while London had the lowest level of coverage in 2018-19 at 83% - down from 85.1% in 2017-18.
MMR coverage across England was 94.5% of children aged five years who had received the first dose of the vaccine in 2018-19 – a slight fall from 94.9% the previous year.
For the five-in-one vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), coverage also decreased among children aged 12 months, 24 months and five years.
Coverage at 12 months fell from 93.1% in 2017-18 to 92.1% in 2018-19 – the sixth annual decrease in a row, with a 2.6 percentage point drop over that time.
NHS Digital said this meant that coverage for this vaccine was now at its lowest level in a decade (since 2008-09).
Among children aged 24 months, coverage dropped below the 95% target for the first time since 2008-09, hitting 94.2% in 2018-19, compared to 95.1% in 2017-18.
For children aged five years, coverage was 95% in 2018-19 (meeting the target of 95%), but down from 95.6% in 2017-18.
This year’s report also includes data on the MenB booster vaccine as a national statistic for the first time, covering a complete year of data. England coverage at the age of 24 months was 87.8% in 2018-19.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “Even a small drop in the take-up of vaccinations is disheartening and very concerning. Our efforts to eradicate potentially serious but entirely preventable diseases had been going so well, but we are now seeing a rise in the numbers of cases of measles and mumps.
“We are aware of the destructive anti-vaccination messages that are circulating online and via social media, and these are perpetuating toxic myths that are not backed by any evidence or false claims that have been completely debunked.
“Parents need to be aware of the clear, evidence-based findings about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”
British Medical Association public health medicine committee chair, Dr Peter English, said: “Childhood immunisation remains the most effective way to prevent a range of life-threatening illnesses and it is therefore extremely concerning to see a decrease in vaccination uptake given this is largely avoidable.
“There is a clear need to curb the damaging spread of false and misleading information on vaccinations by enforcing standards and placing legal obligations on social media corporations.
“More importantly still, the government must implement an effective vaccination strategy that addresses the wide-ranging factors behind this decline and deliver adequate resources to ensure targeted, comprehensive vaccination programmes that reaches those most in need.”