GPs across England will be tasked with identifying and vaccinating up to a million children who are not fully immunised against measles over the next five months, under a large-scale catch-up campaign announced by Public Health England today.
The campaign is designed to boost MMR immunisation rates to above 95% in all 10 to 16 year olds before the new school year in September and could see some GP practices inviting hundreds of extra patients to have MMR jabs.
Local area teams will determine how patients will be targeted, but Public Health England said that it expected GPs to do the majority of the work, going through their practice lists to identify patients at-risk and then inviting them for vaccinations.
Pulse understands that details of how practices will be paid for the additional work expected under the scheme are still being negotiated with the GPC, but the administration of the vaccine in those aged five to nine years would be covered under the GMS contract.
Pulse revealed last week that the RCGP and the BMA were both calling for the NHS to launch a national public health campaign led by GPs to prevent further outbreaks of measles.
Public Health England has now heeded this call and said the ‘best estimate’ of how many young people need vaccinating in total was just under one million, with two-thirds of of that total comprising 10 to 16 year olds needing at least one dose to be fully protected against measles.
The campaign targets this age group as they were most affected by the autism scare over the MMR vaccine, and aims to immunise them all with at least one dose of MMR by September, in time for the next wave of school entrants.
The catch-up campaign will be tailored by NHS England area teams working with directors of public health in local government and LMCs depending on local MMR uptake. The campaign will also include relevant schools-based immunisation programmes, if needed.
Kate Davies, Head of Public Health at NHS England, said: ‘Around 1,600 vaccinations are expected each month. This is a campaign across the whole of England and NHS England can reassure everyone that there are sufficient supplies of vaccine to do this.
‘GPs will also be checking their lists to proactively identify children and young people who have not been vaccinated or have only had one dose and calling them in.
‘Parents and young people don’t need to wait to be contacted. If they are worried they should contact their GP surgery.’
Dr Laurence Buckman, GPC chair, said he was ‘very pleased’ the programme was being launched. He said: ‘We have already written to Public Health England and have had discussions with them about our call for an urgent MMR catch-up programme to target as many 10 to 16 year olds as possible who were not vaccinated as children or only received one injection. This must be done before the next school year starts.
‘For it to be successful Public Health England, local authorities, NHS England and GPs need to work together. This is the first big test for integrated working between these organisations since the NHS was restructured and it is important that we make it a success.
‘We need to ensure that this is carefully planned so that as many individuals as possible are vaccinated and further measles outbreaks are prevented.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said practices could be expected to immunise large numbers of children in some areas, but that the precise funding that GPs would recieve was yet to be determined.
He told Pulse: ‘The additional service element covers opportunistic immunisations – the key question though is whether the additional workload that practices would have if they were engaged in an active campaign – if they are actively engaged in inviting people in then that’s an additional work that would need to be recognised. That’s what the GPC is talking to the various bodies about.’
Dr John Hughes, honorary secretary of Manchester LMC and a GP in Crumpsall, Manchester, said: ‘If there’s extra work on top of what we normally do, we will need extra resources to be able to do it. It does appear to be a significant and substantial workload, probably higher in the better-off areas.
‘In Wales, they had huge numbers just within that one health authority – they were talking about 30,000 in one relatively small area. There could be similar numbers of 25-30,000 in many areas of England.’
Dr Hughes was sceptical about how many immunisations schools programmes would be able to pick up. He said: ‘GPs will undoubtedly be drafted in to do this – we’ll always step up to the mark and do it because nobody else can. Regardless of what else we’re doing we always manage to create the capacity and get things done.’