'It's so scary' – Decline in Suffolk children vaccinated for deadly diseases
PUBLISHED: 05:30 05 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:31 05 April 2019
New figures show the number of Suffolk children vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is falling year on year – prompting concerns that the deadly diseases could resurface.
The data, from Public Health England (PHE), shows the number of children vaccinated for MMR by age two fell from 7,928 in 2013/14 to 7,534 in 2017/18 – a decrease of 5% in just four years.
The proportion of toddlers to receive the vaccine has also decreased from 94.5% to 92.9% – falling short of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended coverage of 95%.
The news has prompted concern among health professionals and parents alike, with experts warning that a reduction in immunisations could take its toll on children’s health in the long term – risking further outbreaks of “highly infectious” diseases.
Overall, the proportion of Suffolk children vaccinated for MMR has increased over the past decade – from 88.9% in 2010/11 to 92.9% in 2017/18.
However the decline that has followed the peak in 2012/13 reflects a change in attitudes – with many parents concerned that vaccinating their children may lead to further health problems.
Sam Dale, a mum of five from Bury St Edmunds, said she was “very torn” about getting the treatment for her son after hearing rumours that vaccines could cause autism and other complications.
“It’s so scary,” she said.
“I know I was very torn when it was time for my son to get his. That was around the time that autism was being linked to it.
“Having a child already with special needs, I didn’t want to do anything that could affect another child.”
However, after doing some research, Mrs Dale said she decided “the pros definitely outweighed the cons” and she “didn’t think twice” when it came to her younger daughter, Emily.
Lisa Nobes, chief nurse of the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk CCGs, said it has been “repeatedly proven” that the MMR vaccine is safe.
“I would strongly urge parents and guardians to get their children vaccinated to protect them from developing serious illness,” she said.
“People particularly underestimate the severity of measles and the devastating consequences it can have.”
A spokeswoman for PHE said it does not have a “definitive answer” as to why vaccination levels are dropping in Suffolk.
However, she said a joint project between the screening and immunisations team and the local authority is currently underway, with the aim to address the falling rate of uptake.
“The project will aim to reduce the downward trend and increase coverage of the MMR second dose and the preschool booster DTaP/IPV for the children of Suffolk, which has been steadily declining over the past five quarters,” she said.
“The project will identify any patterns or pockets of lower coverage and work to promote these vaccinations in these areas and share good practice of areas achieving good vaccination rates.”
What is the national picture?
The PHE spokeswoman said there has been a “steady fall” in the number of parents vaccinating their children since 2012/13.
At a national level, MMR coverage among two-year-olds is at its lowest since 2010/11, and fell below the WHO target of 95% in 2017/18.
“There has been a steady fall in the number of parents getting their children vaccinated across the board,” the spokeswoman said.
“Although the drop is very small, it doesn’t take much of a decline in the number of people vaccinated in a community for herd immunity to be less effective.
“This is especially true for highly infectious diseases such as measles that spread easily amongst non-immune people.
“As a result of this decline, outbreaks of measles have occurred recently in England and other European countries.”
She added: “It’s important for you and your family to get vaccinated so you can help keep yourselves and your community healthy.
“When a high percentage of the population is protected against a disease through vaccination, it becomes harder for the disease to pass between people who have not been vaccinated, thus making it more difficult for it to spread.
“In the cases of measles, thanks to vaccination, it is estimated that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been averted since 1968 in the UK.”