Home   News   Article

Subscribe Now

Childhood immunisation coverage is falling, says the NHS, prompting concerns about outbreaks of diseases like measles





Children are at an increased risk of catching deadly diseases, and there are growing fears about the potential for outbreaks, after latest figures reveal vaccination rates among youngsters are dropping to dangerous levels.

The World Health Organisation says childhood immunisation programmes need to cover 95% of young patients in order to help prevent the spread of serious and sometimes deadly infections such as measles and polio.

But latest statistics for England reveal that only 89.2% of children at age two had completed their first dose of the MMR vaccine - a further decrease from 90.3% the previous year - with 61 out of 149 local authorities reporting coverage that is below 90%.

The WHO says vaccine coverage needs to be maintained at 95% to offer protection to the population. Image: Stock image.
The WHO says vaccine coverage needs to be maintained at 95% to offer protection to the population. Image: Stock image.

Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968 it is estimated that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK.

Coverage for the second dose of MMR, which happens ordinarily before a child starts school, was also down by 1% and was among 13 out of 14 routine NHS childhood immunisations to have recorded a drop in uptake in the last year.

Vaccination rates, say health officials, have been falling over several years but additional disruption from the Covid-19 pandemic, which began in March 2020, is likely to have caused some of the most recent and considerable drops.

The NHS says 13 out of 14 routine immunisation programmes have recorded a drop in coverage
The NHS says 13 out of 14 routine immunisation programmes have recorded a drop in coverage

In the case of measles, which is highly contagious, a very small decline in MMR uptake can still lead to a rise in cases, say health officials.

And with winter on the horizon and levels of international travel edging loser to pre-pandemic levels, there are fears measles will be brought in from countries that have higher levels of the disease and cause outbreaks in populations no longer adequately protected.

Measles can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain which requires hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long term disability or death.

There are fears low uptake of MMR will lead to measles outbreaks. Image: Stock photo.
There are fears low uptake of MMR will lead to measles outbreaks. Image: Stock photo.

Low polio vaccination rates in parts of London have left communities there, says the UKHSA, vulnerable to the spread of poliovirus, which has been detected in parts of North and East London through sewage surveillance.

While no clinical cases of polio have so far been identified, health services have been urged to remain vigilant to any cases of paralysis in children while a targeted polio vaccination campaign is hurriedly under way.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "Measles is highly contagious and can be dangerous, and it is extremely worrying that we are seeing levels of uptake of the MMR vaccine falling among young children. It is also vitally important that children get their polio vaccinations to help prevent the risk of paralysis.

"I would urge parents to check that all children are up to date with their vaccines, and if not to get them booked in as soon as possible to make sure they have maximum protection against what can be terrible diseases. Childhood vaccines also boost population immunity levels, helping prevent outbreaks, so by taking up all vaccinations for our children, we play our part in keeping these diseases confined to the past."

Parents are being reminded of the risk of not taking their children for routine immunisations. Image: Stock photo.
Parents are being reminded of the risk of not taking their children for routine immunisations. Image: Stock photo.

Booking a missed jab

The NHS is currently running an MMR catch-up campaign so parents, whose children may be missing one or even two doses, could be contacted directly.

Anyone who is unsure if their child is up to date with all routine vaccinations should check their child’s red book - also known a their personal child health record - in the first instance. If families remain unsure the advice is to contact the GP surgery to check, and if required, book an appointment.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More