Northumberland behind target on MMR vaccine as figures reveal 'alarming' national picture

Fewer than 90% of five-year-olds in Northumberland had received both doses of the MMR vaccine last year, against a target of 95%, new figures reveal.

By Ben O'Connell
Tuesday, 1st October 2019, 4:26 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 1:24 pm
Photo credit: Myung Jung Kim/PA Wire
Photo credit: Myung Jung Kim/PA Wire

However, in what reflects an ‘alarming’ picture nationwide, the county’s rate of 89.2% was comfortably above the England average of 86.4%.

Across the country, just two local authorities managed to hit the 95% target – County Durham and Cumbria.

Currently, the European Region of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that on a national basis at least 95% of children are immunised against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

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The routine childhood immunisation programme for the UK includes MMR as well as a number of others set out by Public Health England (PHE) in what is known as the Green Book. There is an expectation that UK coverage for all those routine childhood immunisations also meets the 95% mark.

And last Thursday (September 26), NHS Digital released the childhood vaccination statistics for England in 2018-19, which showed that coverage declined in all routine vaccinations.

The figures include 13 measures covering seven immunisations plus second doses or boosters at either 12 months, 24 months or five years. These relate to a number of diseases, such as polio, diphtheria, meningitis, whooping cough as well as measles, mumps and rubella.

Of the 13 measures recorded, Northumberland missed the 95% target in six of them, although for four of them, including the first dose of MMR by age two, the county had a figure of above 94%. What’s more, Northumberland’s rates across all 13 were above the English average.

Where Northumberland missed the 95% mark, less than 20 local authorities did meet the target and in some cases, there were only a handful of councils that managed it.

In most of these, County Durham had the highest rates in England, while North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland also performed well, which explains why Northumberland was below the regional average for all but four of the measures.

Despite the missed targets though, Northumberland’s coverage rates actually improved last year in five of the vaccination measures compared to 2017-18 – four of which were measured at age one, which suggests an improvement which could follow through as these children grow older.

Reacting to the overall picture, Coun Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said:”This alarming fall in childhood vaccination rates should serve as a wake-up call to parents and authorities about the need to ensure our children are property protected and immunised against disease.

“Coverage rates for the past year are the lowest for a decade and it is the responsibility of those who look after our next generation that their health is safeguarded to prevent and protect against any future outbreak.

“Councils, which are responsible for public health, are calling on all parents and guardians to visit their local GP, clinic or health centre to make sure their children have all their vaccinations as soon as possible, in order to reverse this worrying trend.

“We are committed to improving uptake rates and implementing the new vaccination strategy, working with those in health and education. However, councils could achieve so much more if they had greater oversight and powers to lead their local public health strategies.”