This site is intended for UK healthcare professionals
Medscape UK Univadis Logo
Medscape UK Univadis Logo

'Worrying' Drop in Childhood Vaccination Uptake in England

Parents are being urged to get their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) after a "worrying" drop in the uptake of key vaccines.

Figures from NHS England and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show 92.5% of children had had the first dose of the MMR jab at 5 years old by 2022-23, the lowest since 2010-11.

Five-year-olds who had had the second jab by 2022-23 was at 84.5%, also the lowest level since 2010/11.

It comes as vaccination programmes across England failed to meet the uptake recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the year 2022-23. WHO recommends that, nationally, at least 95% of children have jabs for diseases that can be stopped by vaccines, in order to prevent outbreaks. However, NHS data showed no routine vaccine programme met the threshold during the 12-month period.

Trend is of "Serious Concern"

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant medical epidemiologist at UKHSA, said the downward trend is a "serious concern".

"The diseases that these vaccines protect against, such as measles, polio and meningitis, can be life-changing and even deadly. No parent wants this for their child especially when these diseases are easily preventable."

In the UK, babies are offered immunisation against meningitis B and rotavirus at eight weeks old, and are also given the "6-in-1" jab, which helps fight polio, tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenzae type b. The doses are topped up at 12 weeks and 16 weeks.

One-year-olds should receive the first dose of the MMR jab, along with the Hib/MenC vaccine, which protects against haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and meningitis C. They are also offered the second dose of the pneumococcal vaccine and further protection against meningitis B.

The second dose of the MMR is offered at 3 years and 4 months.

In 2022-23, 91.8% of babies in England had the 6-in-1 vaccine by their first birthday, with 93.7% up to date with the pneumococcal vaccine and 91% protected against meningitis B.

Only 88.7% were vaccinated against rotavirus, which can cause diarrhoea in infants.

MMR Vaccine Rates "Particularly Worrying"

Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology, said England "continues to miss key targets". He added: "It is particularly worrying that today's statistics show that only 84.5% of children receive the second MMR vaccine dose by age five – well below the 95% level recommended by the WHO.

"Measles is one of the world's most contagious diseases and cases are currently on the rise in England. We must ensure that vaccination rates improve to stop the spread of measles and give our communities the best possible protection available against this serious illness."

Earlier this month, NHS England warned that more than 32,000 children in London alone are at risk of catching measles due to the decline in vaccination rates.

Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said: "The NHS continues to encourage and support parents and carers to ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations to protect them against becoming seriously unwell from infectious diseases. While most children are up to date with their vaccinations, there is more to do, and the NHS is running an MMR catch-up campaign to support more families in coming forward, with targeted outreach work for those identified as at high risk and communities with the lowest uptake."

In July, a report by WHO said the number of children globally missing all vaccines – known as "zero-dose children" – improved in 2022, dropping to 14.3 million from 18.1 million in 2021.

Pre-pandemic levels were 12.9 million.

The British Society for Immunology has called for "urgent action" from the UK Government, including the publication of a vaccine strategy.

"This publication should be a comprehensive strategy and a springboard to strengthen the roles of local immunisation co-ordinators, ensure services are accessible, widen community outreach and increase both investment in public health campaigns as well as engagement with parents to answer their questions on vaccines," Dr Brown said.

For more news, follow Medscape on  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube