In April 2023 the UKHSA issued a press release and blog, coinciding with the start of World Immunisation Week, which suggested that teenage vaccine uptake “has fallen”, leaving “many young people unprotected” from “life-threatening diseases”. The UKHSA blog, written by Dr Vanessa Saliba, explored the importance of vaccination in childhood to protect against disease. Dr Saliba provides a link to the NHS vaccination programme, which outlines the free vaccine schedule available to children.  

Data suggests a drop 

The press release from UKHSA relates to data addressing the uptake of adolescent vaccines offered to 13- and 14-year-olds who were in Year 9 during the 2021-2022 academic year. These vaccines are the last routine dose for tetanus, diphtheria, and polio, as well as the MenACWY vaccine, which protects against 4 types of meningococcal disease. 

“These rare but serious diseases can cause life-threatening illness leading to hospitalisation, permanent disability, and even death.”  

The statement indicates that the uptake of these vaccines for the age group in question was 69%. This represents a 7% decrease on the previous year and is “well below pre-pandemic levels”: 87.6% for Td/IPV and 88% for MenACWY. However, the data do show that the NHS has “already caught up many children who missed out on their vaccines”.  

Pandemic pressures 

The UKHSA insists that the pandemic has had a significant effect on routine adolescent immunisation programmes. The organisation is “urging” carers to ensure that their young people are up to date before they leave school. Dr Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist and author of the recent UKHSA blog, said that these critical vaccines “are being delivered in schools right now”. 

“In recent years we have seen vaccine uptake fall due to the challenges posed by the pandemic.” 

Although many children have been caught up, “more needs to be done”. These vaccines are particularly important as young people “start their journey into adulthood and mixing more widely”, whether through further education or recreation. Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccination and Screening, said that these vaccines are “extremely well researched” and “proven to provide protection”.  

World Immunisation Week 

The recent data and blog coincide with the start of World Immunisation Week, under WHO’s banner of “The Big Catch-Up”. This aims to support countries to get back on track after the pandemic. Following the UNICEF report on childhood immunisation last week, there is work to be done both to improve access and encourage trust. Maria Caulfield is a Health Minister and thinks that it is “fantastic” to support World Immunisation Week.  

“It’s incredibly important for children to stay up to date with routine vaccinations as this remains one of our best defences against infectious diseases.”

To read Dr Saliba’s blog in full, click here. For more on the UNICEF report read our post from last week.