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Thousands of children at risk as vaccination rates fall in England | Vaccines and immunization

Thousands of children face an increased risk of deadly diseases in England, with significant outbreaks likely, children’s health experts have warned, as “alarming” figures show vaccination levels have plummeted for virtually all vaccines.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is urging parents and guardians to ensure their children have received routine vaccinations against potentially serious diseases such as polio and measles, after official data revealed a drop in vaccination rates.

NHS Digital data released on Thursday showed vaccination coverage declined in 13 of 14 routine programs for children aged up to five in England in 2021-22, compared with the previous year.

“Today’s release of childhood vaccination statistics in England is extremely worrying,” said Dr. Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology. “Immediate action is urgently needed to reverse this alarming multi-year downward trend and protect our communities from preventable disease.”

Health officials said the disruption caused by the pandemic is likely to have caused vaccination rates to drop. UKHSA said it was important that childhood vaccination coverage was raised as soon as possible to the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent the spread of serious and deadly diseases.

The NHS Digital report found that 89.2% of children at 24 months had completed their first dose of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, a drop from 90.3% in 2020-21.

In 2021-22, 85.7% of children had received their second dose of the MMR vaccine before their fifth birthday, down from 86.6% the previous year.

Helen Bedford, professor of children’s public health at the UCL Institute of Child Health, said the country now faces “the worrying double whammy of too many unprotected children and the inevitability of rising disease rates”.

“In this situation, as night follows day, significant disease outbreaks are likely. Measles disease is of particular concern, as it is so highly infectious that any small decline in vaccine uptake results in outbreaks.

“Fortunately, it’s never too late to get vaccinated. Vaccination works, is very effective, and has an excellent safety record. No child needs to face the potentially serious consequences of a vaccine-preventable disease.”

The figures also showed that coverage of the six-in-one/five-in-one vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, diseases caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B, decreased among children 12 months, 24 months and five years.

Reportedly, 91.8% of children had completed their six-in-one three-dose primary course by 12 months in 2021-22, up from 92% in 2020-21.

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

“I urge parents to make sure all children are up to date on their vaccinations and if not, to get them registered as soon as possible to ensure they have maximum protection against what can be terrible diseases.”

Health officials sounded the alarm earlier this year about the growing number of polio samples found in London sewage.

It sparked a campaign to vaccinate nearly a million children aged one to nine in the capital against the disease, which can cause paralysis in rare cases and can be life-threatening.

The UKHSA said no clinical cases of polio have been identified to date, but health services have been urged to remain vigilant for any cases of paralysis in children.

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