Exclusive: GPs have helped vaccinate an additional 110,000 vulnerable children against measles this year as part of the MMR catch-up campaign and the national drive is now ‘halfway’ towards its target, the head of immunisation at Public Health England has told Pulse.
Latest figures show around 55,000 previously unvaccinated children in the target 10–16-years age group have now received one dose of MMR, while a similar number who had previously had one dose have now had their second jab.
The uptake statistics – extrapolated from data obtained from 1,000 GP practices – indicate the campaign is around ‘halfway’ to reaching the Government’s target of having 95% of all children aged 10-16 years protected by at least one dose of MMR by September, the public health body said.
The national campaign was launched in April with the aim of reaching children who missed out on routine MMR immunisation in the late 1990s and early 2000s when they were infants, because of widespread concern over a now-discredited potential link between MMR and autism. Cases of measles recorded in outbreaks across the UK – the most serious of which was centred in Swansea – have predominantly affected young people of this age who were not protected by the vaccine.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said the uptake figures were encouraging, especially given that arrangements for practices to carry out the campaign were set up at short notice.
She told Pulse: ‘It shows the campaign has kicked off with quite a lot of activity and that’s pretty good considering the short time scale. It’s not as many as we’d like – we’d estimated we need double that [figure] to reach our target, which was that by September we would have coverage with at least one dose of 95% in that one population. But it suggests we’re halfway towards that target.’
However, Dr Ramsay said the uptake figures were not as comprehensive as hoped at this stage, because of difficulties extracting data from GP information systems. The current figures come from just one supplier out of the four information systems used, while data from one will not be available until September. The picture is further complicated because central immunisation records held for children in this age bracket are not always accurate, as families move between GPs.
NHS England local area teams are currently meant to be reviewing the data to put regional plans in place, but for now are having to estimate what is going on locally based on the main national figure, checked against GP records. Pulse contacted each of the local area teams to check on progress with the review, but none of the local area teams were able to provide validated data and a spokesperson for NHS England said they would not be able to provide validated data for several weeks.
Dr Ramsay said GPs would still be able to immunise more at-risk children before the original September deadline, particularly once schools break up for the summer, but that schools programmes and other alternatives would be needed in some areas after that, notably in London.
‘We are looking at various additions to the programme and it’s likely that in some areas that they will be looking to go into schools to do vaccinations there. But that will be the next academic year now, as obviously with exams on and so on it’s very difficult to go into schools at the moment.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair and a GP in Leeds, said the uptake was a ‘significant achievement’ on the part of practices, but warned that GPs could find it difficult to immunise outstanding patients who have yet to come forward.
He said: ‘I think bearing in mind this is a cohort of patients that were reluctant to have the vaccination in the first place, that’s quite a significant achievement, which is down to the hard work that practices have put in.’
‘I think it’s going to be even more difficult to get the outstanding patients in, but no doubt practices will do all they can. I would hope that local area teams and public health departments in local authorities will continue to work with practices and encourage schools-based programmes as well to breach this gap.’
Dr Vautrey said fragmentation of services as a result of the NHS reforms would likely have contributed to the problems collating data.
He said: ‘I think that’s a sign of the difficulties that we’ve seen generally with fragmentation following the NHS reorganisation. PCTs had good systems in place in local areas for monitoring things and that’s been lost with the move into Public Health England and Local Authorities. It’s taking time to re-establish those networks.’