NHS England will be writing to GPs to urge them to promote catch-up MMR vaccines for children and young people, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced.
The Prime Minister said ‘urgent action’ is needed to increase uptake of the MMR vaccine following news that the World Health Organization has rescinded the UK’s measles-free status due to the number of measles cases reported in 2018.
Action points announced by the Prime Minister include NHS England writing to GPs to urge them to promote catch-up vaccines for 5 to 25-year-olds who have not been vaccinated against measles.
Figures published earlier this year showed that the UK has the second lowest levels of MMR vaccine uptake in Europe.
The Department for Health and Social Care, in partnership with NHS England and Public Health England, will also be releasing a strategy this autumn to tackle the lack of vaccine coverage, which is expected to address GP capacity to cover immunisation appointments, as part of the GP contract review, and whether alternative settings can deliver vaccines.
The strategy will also develop a campaign in conjunction with GP surgeries to promote the importance of vaccines and assess how technology can be used to improve appointment booking and call/recall systems, so that patients are more likely to attend appointments.
The Prime Minister said: ‘From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.’
Other action points announced include strengthening the role of local immunisation coordinators who can promote vaccines to hard-to-reach groups, updating advice on the NHS website to address concerns about vaccine safety and calling a summit of social media companies to discuss what they can do to promote accurate information on vaccines.
RCGP chair, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, commented on the announcement: ‘People who were not vaccinated as children need to understand that it is not too late to have their MMR jab and we would urge them to do so.
‘We welcome that the Government is addressing the falling take-up of childhood vaccinations seriously – and are particularly pleased to see that they are involving social media companies in their strategy.
‘It is not just the responsibility of GPs and other healthcare professionals to combat anti-vaxxer propaganda, everyone has a part to play: health, public health and education bodies; but we also need technology companies to take responsibility and tackle negativity and confusion around vaccination information.’
Dr Kamal Sidhu, GP partner in Hartlepool, County Durham, said: ‘It is unfair to put the blame on the door of general practice citing lack of appointments. Practices have robust mechanisms to provide vaccination and often go at length to ensure that the uptake is as best as possible.
‘The emphasis on social media approach is welcome as it does go a long way in formulating people’s perceptions.
‘General practice has always achieved robust vaccination coverage despite pressures and any well-supported programme to enhance the uptake will be welcome.’
A Public Health England spokesperson said earlier this year that lack of available appointments is the main reason for the large number of missed vaccinations.
UNICEF reported in April that 527,000 children in the UK missed their MMR vaccine between 2010 and 2017, which the BMA described as ‘incredibly concerning’ with the potential for ‘disastrous’ outcomes.