Coverage of all routine child vaccinations has fallen since last year

Coverage of all 13 routine vaccinations offered to children aged under five years old fell in 2018/19 compared with the previous year, official figures confirm.

Child vaccination (Photo: Image Source/Getty Images)

Coverage for the first dose of the MMR vaccine among children aged up to 24 months plunged to just 90.3% in 2018/19 - down from 91.2% the previous year, and well below the World Health Organisation (WHO) target of 95%.

For the 5-in-1 jab, coverage has now dipped to its lowest point in more than a decade, the latest figures from NHS Digital reveal. Coverage at 12 months has fallen for six years in a row, coming down 2.6 percentage points over that period to 92.1% in 2018/19 - the lowest level recorded since 2008/9.

MMR coverage in England has now fallen for five years in a row since 2013/14. Eight out of the nine English regions saw coverage fall in 2018/19 compared with the previous year.

Vaccine uptake

Only the North East - where coverage was unchanged from the previous year - avoided a decline. Coverage in the North East was the highest of any English region at 94.5%, while coverage was lowest in London - 12 percentage points below the WHO target at 83%.

Figures for coverage at five years of age show that 94.5% of children had received the first dose of MMR in 2018/19 - down from 94.9% the previous year.

Coverage for the 5-in-1 vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), fell among children aged 12 months, 24 months and five years.

Figures for vaccination coverage of pneumococcal disease (PCV), rotavirus, meningococcal group B (MenB), Hib booster and meningococcal group C vaccine (Hib/MenC) and children’s flu vaccines also saw decreases in 2018/19 compared with the previous year.

Catch-up campaign

The latest figures come just a month after GPs were urged to promote MMR catch-up vaccinations, following an announcement that the 'measles-free' status awarded to the UK by the WHO in 2016 had been withdrawn.

BMA public health medicine committee chair Dr Peter English called for the government to overhaul its vaccination strategy. He warned: 'Childhood immunisation remains the most effective way to prevent a range of life-threatening illnesses and it is therefore extremely concerning to see a decrease in vaccination uptake given this is largely avoidable.

'There is a clear need to curb the damaging spread of false and misleading information on vaccinations by enforcing standards and placing legal obligations on social media corporations.'

Across-the-board falls in vaccination rates come as the government is undertaking a review of vaccination and immunisation arrangements that could see vaccines delivered in a wider range of locations, outside of general practice.

Meanwhile, documents released as part of the five-year GP contract deal show that some vaccination programmes could be delivered at network level in future.

The vaccination figures released by NHS Digital included data on the MenB booster vaccine for the first time. Coverage in England at 24 months was 87.8% in 2018/19.

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