A dip in uptake for vaccines offered to 13 and 14 year olds in England has left more young people at risk of diseases, including tetanus, diphtheria, polio, and invasive meningococcal diseases, according to health officials who said coverage had yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Uptake of the Td/IPV vaccine (for tetanus, diphtheria, and polio) was 69%, while uptake of MenACWY (for invasive meningococcal disease) was 69.2% in school year 9 during 2021 to 2022, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said. Coverage was 7.3% and 7.1% lower, respectively, than in the previous academic year, according to officials, who noted that the proportion of children receiving the vaccines was lower in both academic years than the 87.6% who received Td/IPV and the 88% given MenACYW in 2018-19.
However, data indicated that the NHS had made some progress in catching up on the school-based adolescent immunisation programme, with uptake for the school leaver booster (Td/IPV) standing at 79.5%, and coverage for MenACWY at 79.6% in the 2021-22 academic year. However, both figures were slightly lower than for the year 10 cohort during 2020-21.
'More Needs to be Done'
Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "In recent years we have seen vaccine uptake fall due to the challenges posed by the pandemic." She added that "more needs to be done to ensure all those eligible are vaccinated" and ensure teenagers were protected prior to mixing more widely at college, starting work, or enjoying summer festivals.
MPs were warned by public health figures last week that some serious diseases that had been absent for decades could return unless improvements were seen in vaccination rates. Dr Mary Ramsay, director of public health programmes at the UKHSA, told an inquiry by the Commons Health and Social Care Committee that measles would be "the first one we get back at scale", but that polio and diphtheria could also make a comeback.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, told MPs at the same meeting that a task force was needed to target communities "that don't access immunisation".
European Immunisation Week
At the start of European Immunisation Week, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) stated that over 1.2 million children in the World Health Organisation European region had missed a vaccination to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We cannot stay passive in the face of threats like measles, polio, diphtheria, or tetanus," it warned.
The EMA also issued advice to the public to get information on vaccination from science-based sources due to an "unprecedented amount of disinformation" that was being distributed.