The national COVID-19 restrictions should not stop children from receiving life-saving vaccines, Public Health England (PHE) has said.
Following the introduction of lockdown on 23 March 2020 and during the following 3 to 4 weeks, there was a decline in the number of children receiving MMR and hexavalent (protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B) vaccines. This is despite the NHS ensuring that appointments are still available and that routine vaccinations should continue to go ahead.
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‘Vaccines remain the best defence against infection. It’s essential we maintain the highest possible uptake to prevent a resurgence of serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases,’ said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at PHE.
‘Routine vaccinations are still available throughout the pandemic – it’s vital that we continue to make it as easy and safe as possible for parents to take their children to appointments.’
New data from PHE shows a continued recovery since April, but uptake is still behind on previous years – and health experts are concerned these may fall again, leaving thousands of children vulnerable to serious illness. According to data from 38% of GP practices, 3.8% fewer hexavalent vaccines and 2.8% fewer MMR vaccines have been given compared to the same time last year. PHE continues to monitor this data.
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‘General practice services have been available throughout the pandemic, and GPs and our teams continue to work hard to ensure children can access their childhood vaccines. We can’t stress enough how important it is that parents ensure that children are up-to-date with their vaccination schedules, regardless of lockdown restrictions,’ said Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.
‘In the UK, we’ve made encouraging advances in our goal to eradicate life-threatening infectious diseases via the NHS’ childhood vaccination programme. As we make progress developing a vaccine to help us tackle Covid-19, we mustn’t neglect the vaccines that we already have. Vaccines only work if people have them and it would be a tragedy if, following the current pandemic, we experienced outbreaks of other deadly diseases for which vaccines already exist because, for whatever reason, people didn’t come forward for their jabs.’