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Childhood immunisation uptake increased before pandemic

child vaccinations

The proportion of children receiving routine immunisations increased last year in England, data from NHS Digital shows.

It includes the first increase in the rates of vaccination for first dose of MMR in six years.

The proportion of children receiving the MMR vaccine increased from 90.3% to 90.6% in 2019/20 – still short of the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation and the peak of 92.7% see in 2013/14, the annual report pointed out.

Regional data showed the North East had the highest level of coverage at 95.1% – the only area to beat the 95% target. London had the lowest level of coverage in 2019/20 at 83.6% but a rise from 83% the previous year.

In all immunisations rates increased across 12 of 14 measures looked at, by 0.2 to 0.9 percentage points, the report from PubIic Health England and NHS Digital said.

For the 5-in1 vaccine – and 6-in-1 version that replaced it in 2017 – rates were up for 12-month and five-year doses, but down for the 24-month cohort, the figures show.

While the target for 95% of children up to two years of age to be vaccinated was not achieved, by the time they reach five, coverage was 95.2%, the figures showed.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said childhood vaccination coverage remains high and last year’s figures show an encouraging improvement.

She said: ‘However, there is still much work to be done to return to peak levels.’

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said the figures showing increased uptake would be reassuring for GPs and their teams.

He said: ‘It’s important we recognise that while this data represents a step in the right direction it doesn’t cover March 2020 and thereafter, so it does not reflect the impact of the Covid pandemic.

He added: ‘GPs and our teams have continued to deliver childhood vaccinations throughout the pandemic. But we know from the college’s Research and Surveillance Centre data that GP appointments fell during the peak of the virus and patients avoided using GP services for various reasons, such as fear of the contracting the virus.

‘Therefore, there is a chance that next year’s data may reflect a fall in vaccination uptake if parents and carers do not ensure their children are caught up with schedules, including any missed immunisations.’