Health Secretary ‘will not rule out’ bold action on vaccines

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he will not “rule out” bold action to protect children as new figures showed fewer are receiving routine NHS vaccinations.

Mr Hancock, who said in April he could not rule out the possibility that unvaccinated children would be sent home from school in future, warned that “devastating diseases can, and will, resurface”.

He suggested “bold action” could be taken if vaccination rates fail to improve.

It comes as figures showed a continuing decline in the proportion of children receiving all 13 NHS childhood jabs, including the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and those for meningitis.

Mr Hancock said: “Falling childhood vaccination rates are unacceptable. Everyone has a role to play in halting this decline.

“The loss of our measles-free status is a stark reminder that devastating diseases can, and will, resurface.

“We need to be bold and I will not rule out action so that every child is properly protected.”

The new NHS data shows a drop across England in 2018-19 in vaccination rates compared to the previous year.

The decreases ranged in size from 0.2 to one percentage points depending on the vaccine.

The proportion of children vaccinated with all doses of the combined diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP/IPV/Hib) jab fell to 92.1% by age 12 months, its lowest level since 2008-09 and below the 95% target.

This compares with 93.1% being protected in 2017-18 and shows a 2.6% drop in coverage over the last six years.

By age five, 95% of children are protected, hitting the target, but a drop on the 95.6% reported the previous year.

For MMR, 90.3% of children had their first dose in 2018-19, down from 91.2% the year before and continuing a five-year downward trend.

Some 86.4% of children received their second dose of the MMR vaccine by their fifth birthday, a decrease from 87.2% in the previous year.

The proportion of children vaccinated against rotavirus also fell, as did coverage for the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), the combined Hib/meningitis C vaccine and the meningitis B vaccine.

Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, said: “Vaccines are a vital, life-saving part of our country’s public health and the numbers of children not being vaccinated is concerning.

“No-one should be complacent about getting their own or their child’s jabs and so the NHS is taking action, with its partners, to combat the decline and to reverse the dangerous effects of complacency about vaccines.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England (PHE), said: “Although these changes are small proportions, these are big drops in terms of public health.

“The trend is a concerning continuation of what we’ve seen in the last five years.

“No parent should be in any doubt of the devastating impact of these diseases.

“It’s vital that everyone recognises the value of vaccines and takes up this life-saving offer.”

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