Published: 10:00, 11 July 2020
| Updated: 10:03, 11 July 2020
Additional reporting by Patrick Jack
Hundreds of babies are missing out on potentially life-saving jabs in Kent, with vaccine uptake remaining below the level the World Health Organisation says is needed for herd immunity.
Department of Health and Social Care say this may be down to more parents being afraid of taking their children to get vaccinated during the coronavirus pandemic.
The WHO recommends at least 95% of newborns should get the six-in-one jab, which protects against six serious infections including polio, whooping cough and diphtheria.
But 93.5% of infants born in Kent who had their first birthday between January and March have been vaccinated, according to Public Health England data. This means 262 babies missed out, although it is not recommended for those with allergies to the vaccine.
Immunisation rates have fallen since the previous quarter, when 94.7% of babies were vaccinated. Across England, vaccination rates stood at 92.7% between January and March 2020.
Dr Doug Brown, the group's chief executive, said: "We must do better to protect our children. Improving vaccine uptake is a complex issue, but one we can solve.
"Initiatives such as strengthening the role of immunisation co-ordinators, ensuring services are accessible and widening services to go out into communities are all strategies that we know work. Additionally, engaging with parents to answer their questions and provide accurate information on vaccines is key to success.”
He added that he hopes the Government's long-awaited vaccine strategy, which was first announced last summer but is yet to be published, will tackle many of these issues.
In the South East, the uptake was 94.3% at the start of the year – the second highest region in England. The region with the highest uptake was the North East, with 96.2%, while London had the lowest, at 88.8%.
But the Department of Health and Social Care said some people may have felt unsafe taking their baby for their jabs during the coronavirus crisis, and that it is working to address this.
A spokeswoman said: “Every child must be vaccinated against dangerous and potentially fatal diseases and it’s vital that vaccinations are up-to-date. We are aware some parents may have felt uncomfortable accessing services during the peak of the pandemic.
“We are working with NHS England and Improvement and Public Health England to catch-up with those people who may have missed out on their vaccination as quickly and as safely as possible.”
Dr Brown added: “Throughout lockdown, immunisation services have been prioritised by GP surgeries to ensure that children continue to receive the essential protection that vaccination confers.
"If your child has missed one of their vaccinations, get in touch with your GP surgery and they can make a catch-up appointment for you. It’s never too late to protect your child from catching one of these nasty diseases.”
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