Coverage of the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine in England for children reaching their second birthday fell to 91.9% in 2015-16 compared to 92.3% in 2014-15, according to the latest statistics published by Digital NHS
This is the second consecutive year a slight fall in MMR coverage has been reported.
The MMR vaccine was first introduced in 1988 and coverage of children reaching their second birthday rose steadily in the late 80s and early 90s before subsequently discredited research suggested a potential link with autism and Crohn’s disease. By 2003-04 take-up had slumped to 1988 levels. Coverage then began to rise again, eventually peaking at 92.7% in 2013-14.
The coverage for 2015-16 remains below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target level of 95%. Only one of the nine English regions – the North East – hit this target with a fall in coverage recorded in all other regions with the exception of the South East. The most worrying region for health officials remains London where coverage for 2015-16 was 86.4%, down from 87.3% in 2014-15.
Health officials recommend that children receive their first dose of MMR vaccine after their first birthday (MMR1) and then a second dose between three years four months and five years.
The good news is that MMR1 take-up by five years exceeds 95% in seven out of nine regions in England, with the North East again topping the league table. The South East and London had the lowest coverage – 93.5% and 91.1% respectively – with the West Midlands the only region not to show an improvement (95.6%) on 2014-15.
Professor Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, described the latest figures as ‘extremely worrying’.
The UK has a proud history of developing and delivering vaccines to those who need them. The decline in routine childhood vaccination in children is especially worrying, with some areas of the UK falling well below the minimum standards recommended by the World Health Organization. We are behind many countries in our vaccine uptake, exposing our children to risks of potentially harmful and even fatal diseases. We are especially endangering those within our communities who are vulnerable because of health problems (for example, those with compromised immune systems, elderly people and cancer patients). In those cases, they may only be protected by healthy people being vaccinated for the public good.
It is crucial that local authorities and the NHS take joint action to reverse this trend. There needs to be sufficient funding and skills to be able to both communicate the benefits of vaccination and to deliver vaccines efficiently and effectively to the people who need them. We all need to work together and to learn the lessons from those who are performing well.
Vaccination saves lives. It’s up to the Government to put schemes in place to ensure that vaccine rates increase in order to stop the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases.