Thousands fewer children immunised against common diseases because of lockdown

PHE looked at data from almost 40 per cent of GP surgeries for use of the common 6-in-1 vaccination for diseases including diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, and polio as well as uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to 19 October.

In total 167,322 children had the 6-in-1 vaccine, a drop of 6,600 on the same period in 2019, a fall of almost 4 per cent.

PHE has warned parents they should continue to get their children immunised regardless of lockdown and restrictions brought on by coronavirus.

During the first wave of coronavirus the government advised that children should continue to receive vaccinations as scheduled but despite these some appointments were delayed and the numbers of children vaccinated against common diseases fell compared to 2019.

A total of 167,670 children had the MMR jab, 4,700 fewer than in 2019, a drop of 2.8 per cent. Although the vaccinations recovered after lockdown the rates are still lower overall than 2019.

The falls come amid rising anti-vaccination sentiment and a drop in the coverage of MMR in 2019 which led to the UK losing its measles free status from the World Health Organisation with fewer than 95 per cent of the population vaccinated and rising numbers of cases.

In a report Public Health England said: “At the introduction of the physical distancing measures on 23 March, vaccination counts for [for both vaccines] fell compared to 2019.”

It added: “This decrease in vaccination counts may be associated with Covid-19 messaging about staying home initially overwhelming the messaging that the routine immunisation programme was to remain operating as usual. Additionally, anecdotal information indicated that in some areas, to ensure safe and best practice, GPs had to reschedule appointments in the initial weeks to ensure social distancing within GP practices.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at Public Health England, said: “Vaccines remain the best defence against infection. It’s essential we maintain the highest possible uptake to prevent a resurgence of serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases.

“Routine vaccinations are still available throughout the pandemic – it’s vital that we continue to make it as easy and safe as possible for parents to take their children to appointments.”

Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, added: “General practice services have been available throughout the pandemic, and GPs and our teams continue to work hard to ensure children can access their childhood vaccines.

“We can’t stress enough how important it is that parents ensure that children are up-to-date with their vaccination schedules, regardless of lockdown restrictions.

“In the UK we’ve made encouraging advances in our goal to eradicate life-threatening infectious diseases via the NHS’ childhood vaccination programme. As we make progress developing a vaccine to help us tackle Covid-19, we mustn’t neglect the vaccines that we already have.

“Vaccines only work if people have them and it would be a tragedy if following the current pandemic, we experienced outbreaks of other deadly diseases for which vaccines already exist because, for whatever reason, people didn’t come forward for their jabs.”

As well as the MMR and hexavalent vaccines, parents are encouraged to ensure 2-3-year olds get their flu nasal spray from their GP as winter approaches.

The NHS is ensuring appointments are still available and routine vaccinations should continue to go ahead.

Parents of school-aged children should continue returning consent forms to schools, to ensure children receive the flu vaccine.

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