Under plans set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the DH will instruct GPs to clear waiting lists, recommend earlier jabs in some circumstances and examine changes to practice IT systems to eliminate delays in vaccinating young children.
The ongoing surge in pertussis cases led the JCVI to examine factors linked to low levels of protection from vaccine-preventable diseases. The advisors warned that caps on children attending particular clinics and allowing parents to delay immunisation left children unvaccinated for longer than necessary.
The UK is currently experiencing the largest surge of pertussis since the early 1990s, with 2,466 cases reported up to the end of June, double the number reported in the whole of 2011.
At its June meeting, the JCVI examined the possible options for improving immunity against pertussis.
The committee recommended whooping cough vaccination for healthcare workers working with young babies to protect them against the infection and importantly to stop any risk of them passing the infection on to their very young patients.
The JCVI also stressed the importance of children receiving vaccinations at the appropriate time.
‘Any delay in children receiving primary immunisations left them unprotected for a longer period than necessary,’ the committee said. ‘It is important that children receive immunisations at the recommended ages.’
The JCVI also made recommendations for families considering delaying the start of immunisations for travel or other reasons. It said that, in these circumstances, it would be better to start the course at six weeks, rather than delaying vaccination beyond the two-month age at which it is recommended to begin.
The DH would also ‘investigate possible adjustments to GP IT systems to ensure the protection of infants is not delayed’, the JCVI said.
‘Delays in some infant immunisations may be due to the way GP IT systems schedule immunisation clinics as they may cap the number of children attending any one clinic,’ it said.
The committee said the importance of adherence to the routine immunisation schedule should be reinforced. It recommended that the DH should have discussions with the BMA and RCGP 'to encourage GPs to clear any waiting lists and actively advocate for timely immunisation'.
‘DH will communicate with GPs and immunisation coordinators and investigate possible adjustments to GP IT systems to ensure the protection of infants is not delayed,' it added.
The JCVI also considered lowering the age at which the first DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine is offered to babies, but then rejected the idea. The DTaP/IPV/Hib vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type, is currently offered when babies are two, three and four months old.