Dr Philippa Whitford MP
Chair of the APPG on Vaccinations for All and MP for Central Ayrshire
As we plot a course through the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines have come to the top of the political agenda. However, there has been a variable decline in uptake of routine immunisation – a trend that desperately needs to be understood.
In England, coverage declined in nine out of 12 routine vaccinations to below 95%, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended level required to achieve community protection, and measles cases are increasing every year. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also seen slight decreases in recent years but vaccine uptake tends to be several percentage points higher and no measles outbreaks have been seen in Scotland or Northern Ireland in recent years.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccination, I work with MP’s and peers on a cross-party basis to build parliamentary awareness of the importance of vaccines and their contribution to good health.
While there is often a focus on those who vehemently oppose vaccination, they are in a tiny minority. The wish for detailed information about any drug treatment is normal and vaccine hesitancy is understandable, particularly in response to some of the disinformation shared online.
Measles killed over 200,000 people last year – mostly children – so we must guard against complacency.
Vaccine trust and complacency
Transparency is very important to maintain trust and parents or patients should be given clear information and have their questions answered as thoroughly as possible by their health practitioner. These reassurances will make parents aware that vaccines are safe and are one of the most effective ways of protecting our children against life threatening or life-changing diseases.
There is also a degree of complacency, in wealthy countries like the UK, about the risk from childhood illnesses like measles or polio, as severe outbreaks are now fortunately rare. However, measles killed over 200,000 people last year – mostly children – so we must guard against complacency.
Finally, there are issues of access. In the UK, with high quality immunisation programmes, there is no comparison to the difficulties of an isolated or war-torn region, but it can still be challenging for a parent of several young children. Vaccine provision should be made as simple and accessible as possible.
To find out more about the report on Vaccine Confidence that the APPG is launching in the spring, and for more information about the group, please go to: www.appg-vfa.org.uk.