NHS data has revealed a drop in coverage across all 13 routine childhood vaccinations in England, with decreases ranging from 0.2%-1.0% compared to last year.
Of particular concern to public health officials, after six years of consecutive decline coverage for the five-in-one (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and haeomphilus influenzae type B) vaccine now stands at just 94.2%, falling below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation for the first time since 2008.
Also of note, coverage for both doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine also slipped again this year – the first dose at 24 months down to 90.3% from 91.2% and the second dose at five years down to 86.4% from 87.2%.
“Although these changes are small proportions, these are big drops in terms of public health,” said Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation. “The trend is a concerning continuation of what we’ve seen in the last five years.”
The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) is urging the government to follow through with its commitment to deliver a comprehensive strategy this Autumn, to address the gaps in vaccination uptake.
“This should consider catch-up programmes for those who have missed out on jabs, local interventions to under-vaccinated communities, and better investment in positive media campaigns around the importance of vaccines,” the Society stressed.
“There are also existing strategies that are known to improve uptake, such as increasing availability of appointment times and sending reminders to parents, but maintaining the necessary resources for these requires adequate funding from central government.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said “falling childhood vaccination rates are unacceptable,” according to media reports.
“Everyone has a role to play in halting this decline. The loss of our measles-free status is a stark reminder that devastating diseases can, and will, resurface. We need to be bold and I will not rule out action so that every child is properly protected.”
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said:
“The loss of our ‘measles-free’ status earlier this summer raised alarm bells, and these latest figures on overall childhood vaccination coverage should serve as a warning message that our world-leading vaccination programme is under threat.
“It is vital now that the Prime Minister is held to his commitment to deliver a strategy to deal with this growing problem as a matter of urgency. If we do not, we risk further undermining the huge progress we have made to date in preventing disease through childhood immunisation. This should include specific measures to reach out to communities where uptake is especially low, and be backed up with the resources to do so.
“We must also be wary of the growth of misinformation around immunisation online, and the potential damage this exposure could do to trust in vaccines. Our research found negative messaging around vaccines was prolific on social media, with two in five parents reporting exposure to it. We would strongly urge all parents to make use of the free NHS vaccination service available to all: it is safe, effective, and it saves lives.”