GP fear surge of avoidable illness as patients skip routine vaccinations in pandemic

Patients have been urged not to skip routine vaccination amid concerns the COVID-19 pandemic could trigger a wave of preventable disease.

(Photo: FatCamera/Getty Images)
(Photo: FatCamera/Getty Images)

Guidance from Public Health England (PHE), supported by the RCGP and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has advised practices to re-book appointments for patients who missed vaccinations due to the COVID-19 response as soon as possible. PHE also said practices should continue to follow the standard timetable for immunisations, despite the pandemic.

The guidance comes amid reports that patients are reluctant to attend GP practices for routine vaccinations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

A survey of 2,511 parents by pharmaceutical company GSK found that while 73% of parents were happy for their child to be vaccinated during the pandemic, just 27% were comfortable taking them to a GP surgery for their immunisation. This compared with 91% who were happy attend their practice for vaccination before the pandemic.

Routine vaccination

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said patients' reluctance to come forward for routine vaccinations for themselves or their children was 'a concern'.

'We want every parent to bring their children in for routine vaccinations,' he said. 'The last thing anyone wants is an outbreak of another viral infection that is controllable. Practices are willing and ready to give jabs to anyone that needs them. Practices have been encouraging patients to come forward and there was some campaigning from the NHS a few weeks ago - that needs to be sustained.'

RCGP national immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos highlighted that practices had systems in place to keep patients safe. 'GPs and practice nurses have now ensured their premises are safe for children and adults to receive routine vaccinations,' he said. 'I would urge all parents of young children with outstanding immunisations, as well as adults, to contact their GP practice to arrange vaccinations,'

PHE's guidance provides advice on how clinicians can reassure parents and other patients about the importance of immunisation, stressing that as well as protecting individuals vaccinations also prevent other disease outbreaks that could put additional pressure on the NHS.

COVID-19 infection

Parents with any concerns about vaccinations taking place during the pandemic should be reassured that immunisation will not 'overload' their child's immune system or leave them more susceptible to COVID-19 infection, the guidance says.

All parents should also be told that they are not be required to follow coronavirus guidance and self-isolate should their child develop a post-immunisation fever, unless they have any reason to suspect they may have COVID-19.

Practices should use the standard PPE recommended for primary care while undertaking immunisations, including for live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), the guidance says. 'Coughing and sneezing which may occur following administration of LAIV are not included as high risk aerosol generating procedures,' it adds.

Practices are also advised to continue to order vaccines through the usual routes and ensure that no more than two weeks supply is maintained in the surgery. 'This will help to avoid vaccine
shortages and reduce wastage,' PHE says.

The guidance also revealed that plans are being developed to use the summer breaks to catch-up on the school immunisation backlog, while some outstanding immunisations could also take place during the 2020/21 school year.

However no further information is provided on this year's flu campaign. GPs have warned that they struggling to plan flu vaccine orders because they remain 'in the dark' over this year's at-risk groups. There are also concerns that the process for administering vaccines this year will be more complicated and take significantly longer due to infection control process that will need to be in place.

PHE said that further information on flu immunisation 'will be published in due course'.

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