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West Midlands children at risk of avoidable serious illness due to missing vital routine vaccination



UKHSA warning comes as new data shows vaccination coverage for young children fell last year for virtually all programmes

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging parents and guardians to ensure their children are up to date with all their routine childhood immunisations – including polio and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations. This comes as figures for the West Midlands region show vaccine uptake for all childhood diseases remains well below the recommended 95% required to protect the population.

Data for 2021-22 shows that by their second birthday, only 93.4% of children in the region were protected against diphtheria, tetanus, polio and pertussis (whooping cough) – a notable drop from the 97.3% high seen in 2010-11. While latest data for MMR reveals only 89.4% of 2-year-olds had protection from measles, mumps and rubella – plummeting from the high of 93.6% coverage seen in 2013-14 – which was still below the safe threshold to give herd immunity. Across England’s nine regions, the West Midlands comes 8th in the league table of coverage for all immunisations in those first two years, with only London being worse. By their fifth birthday only 85.2% of  West Midlands children have had both MMR jabs, and only 84.2% had their boosters for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and pertussis.

Caryn Cox, Health Protection Consultant with UKHSA West Midlands – leading on vaccine preventable diseases, said: “Measles is highly contagious, and in some cases, it can be very dangerous – with complications including pneumonia, meningitis, blindness and seizures (fits). This is why children should have their first MMR vaccine aged 12 to 15 months, with their second at around 3 years 4 months, and especially before they start school. It is also vitally important that children get their polio vaccinations to help prevent the risk of paralysis.

“I urge parents and guardians 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 and life-altering 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.”

Vaccination rates have fallen over several years and additional disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in March 2020, is likely to have caused some of the decreases in vaccine coverage seen in 2020-21 and 2021-22 compared to earlier years.

It is important vaccination coverage is recovered as soon as possible to levels recommended by The World Health Organization of 95% for all childhood immunisation programmes to help prevent the spread of avoidable serious - and sometimes deadly - diseases such as measles and polio.

The latest vaccination statistics from the UKHSA and NHS Digital for children up to 5 years of age in the UK (COVER programme) shows coverage decreased for 13 out of the 14 routine vaccination programmes measured in 2021-22:

  • only 89.2% of children at 24 months had completed their first dose of the MMR vaccine, which is a decrease from 90.3% in the previous year

  • coverage for the second dose of MMR by age 5 years was also down by nearly 1%

  • coverage for the first dose of MMR at 24 months was less than 90% in 61 (out of 149) local authorities

  • coverage also decreased for the 6-in-1/5-in-1 vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, disease caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B, among children aged 12 months, 24 months, and five years.

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.

Measles is highly contagious so even a small decline in MMR uptake can lead to a rise in cases. Since international travel has resumed closer to pre-pandemic levels, it is more likely that measles will be brought in from countries that have higher levels of the disease and cause outbreaks.

Measles can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain which require hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long term disability or death. The NHS is running a MMR catch up campaign so some parents may be contacted directly.

Low polio vaccination rates in parts of London have left communities vulnerable to the spread of poliovirus, which has been detected in parts of North and East London through sewage surveillance. To date, no clinical cases of polio have been identified but health services have been urged to remain vigilant to any cases of paralysis in children.

A polio vaccination campaign, recommended by the expert immunisation committee JCVI, is underway in London for all 1- to 9-year-olds, either as a booster dose or catch up and it’s important all parents take up this offer as soon as possible to help protect their child.

Anyone who is unsure if their child is up to date with all their routine vaccinations should check their child’s Red Book (personal child health record) in the first instance. If you are still not sure, or if you need to bring your child up to date with their vaccines, contact your GP practice to check and book an appointment.

To find out more about childhood vaccinations, please visit the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/nhs-vaccinations-and-when-to-have-them/

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