The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has, for the first time, published guidelines on childhood vaccinations in order to address inequalities in the rates of their uptake across England.

According to the Institute, evidence shows significant variation in the uptake of childhood immunisation among different social groups in the country. It says children are particularly at risk of not having received the full suite of jabs if they have missed previous vaccinations, have physical or learning disabilities, are the youngest of a large family or are from non-English speaking families.

Consequently, NICE has published a set of recommendations – which it says is aimed at anyone who has a direct or indirect responsibility for the immunisation of children and young people - that it hopes will increase the number of children who are up-to-date with their vaccinations and so are as protected as possible from certain diseases.

For example, it recommends that primary care trusts and GP practices ensure that “structured and systematic methods” are in place for recording, maintaining and sharing accurate data on the vaccination status of their young patients. In addition, it has called for better access to immunisation services for those with transport, language or communication difficulties and those who have physical or learning disabilities, through walk-in clinics and longer appointment times, for example.

Moreover, it says every child aged up to five years should have their immunisation and personal child health record checked by health visitors and other practitioners, and that they should carry out this check “when the child joins a day nursery, nursery school, playgroup, Sure Start children’s centre or when they start primary school”.

The Institute has also included recommendations for vaccinating babies whose mothers have been diagnosed with Hepatitis B, such as the development and implementation of related local infant vaccination programmes and the prompt administration of the first dose of vaccine to ensure the best protection.

Missing targets
“Although immunisation rates are rising, there is still a way to go before all primary care trusts have achieved the desired public health targets,” commented Dr David Elliman Consultant Community Paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Trust and Haringey Teaching PCT. “Uptake varies significantly within PCTs – mobile populations, some ethnic minority groups and the more disadvantaged all have lower rates of immunisation [and] the new guidance emphasises the importance of providing these groups with tailored interventions, including accurate, up-to-date information available in a variety of formats that are relevant to different communities and groups,” he said.

But Jackie Fletcher, from the campaign group Jabs, told The Telegraph that the drive will put parents under pressure to get their children vaccinated. “Many parents would like to vaccinate their children but they cannot have the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines on the NHS. This will put extra pressure on parents that they could do without, particularly because we do not have compulsory vaccination in this country”, she stressed.