Urgent action must be taken to tackle declining rates of vaccination, particularly among children, MPs have told the Government.
The UK's longstanding reputation as a world leader on vaccination was at risk, the Commons Health and Social Care Committee said, citing official figures that England missed the 95% target for all routine childhood immunisations in 2021-22.
The inquiry found that England was the only nation of the UK where coverage for all childhood vaccines at all ages was below the target, with rates consistently below the UK average. The lowest level of coverage was for the DTaP/IPV booster at age 5 years, where coverage was 84.2%, the report noted.
Practical Challenges Must Be Addressed
The Committee called for a more flexible system to overcome practical challenges of where and when routine vaccinations were made available. Vaccination is "one of the greatest success stories" for preventing infection and it was "unacceptable that there are people who are unable to take advantage of the important protection that vaccination offers due to practical challenges of time and location that can and must be addressed", MPs stressed.
Further evidence presented to the Committee showed that vaccine coverage fell in 13 out of the 14 routine programmes for children up to 5 years old in 2021-22, and that immunisation rates had been "consistently dropping" in recent years.
The potential danger from low rates of vaccine coverage was "plain to see" earlier this month, MPs said, when the UK Health Security Agency published data suggesting that unless MMR vaccination rates improve, London "could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases".
The report urged the Government to change the law if necessary, so that medical and nursing students, as well as recently retired healthcare professionals, could help with the vaccination programme.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said in an emailed statement: "We take child health very seriously and it is important that everyone takes up the vaccinations to which they are entitled for themselves, their families and wider society."
The spokesperson highlighted a campaign launched last February "to encourage uptake of both doses of the MMR vaccine in children under the age of 5 years, with an MMR catch-up campaign launched in October 2022".
The latest findings are the first to be published by the cross-party Health and Social Care Committee in an overarching inquiry into preventing ill health, with 10 areas of policy being examined.
The latest published findings also considered the clinical research environment and heard a number of concerns about risks to the UK's international reputation. This included evidence from pharmaceutical giant Moderna, which warned that "the UK is lagging behind international competitors when it comes to supporting a thriving clinical research environment". That message was reinforced by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry when it warned in October last year that " industrial clinical trial activity in the UK is at its lowest point to date".
Data showed that the number of industry clinical trials initiated in the UK per year had fallen by 41% between 2017 and 2021, with the strongest decline seen in phase III trials, MPs highlighted.
Committee chair, Steve Brine MP, said: "One of the challenges is the slowness of bureaucratic processes to set up trials. This and other challenges must be fixed if we are to make the most of our world-leading academic and research expertise."