NHS England will consider allowing other healthcare settings outside of general practice offer a wider range of vaccinations to children and young people, as part of a government strategy to increase childhood vaccine coverage in the UK.
The strategy, which will be announced in full in autumn 2019, comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) stripped the UK of its “measles-free” status, three years after the virus was eliminated in 2016.
According to government statistics, in the first three months of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK, with many of these acquired abroad and then spread in under-vaccinated communities. This is compared with just 17 cases in the same quarter in 2017.
To curb the spread of the disease, prime minister Boris Johnson called for health leaders to increase the proportion of children getting their second dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine from 87% to 95% — a target that was originally set in the government’s prevention green paper, published in July 2019.
In an announcement on 18 August 2019, Johnson said the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England would be delivering a strategy to address the issue of under-vaccination amoung children and young people in the UK this autumn.
As part of the strategy, the DHSC said it will “examine wider questions of improving GP capacity to allow additional immunisation appointments — while also asking NHS England to consider other settings outside of a GP for vaccinations”.
The DHSC would not confirm when asked whether this would include looking at offering the MMR vaccine through community pharmacy.
The move to broaden the availability of vaccinations for children and young people comes after a senior epidemiologist at PHE told The Pharmaceutical Journal in April 2019 that “timing, availability and location of appointments” are more significant barriers to MMR vaccinations than anti-vax messages which impact “a small minority of parents”.
Despite this, the prime minister has committed to discussing with social media companies how they can help to disseminate accurate information about vaccines, while also promising to update advice on the NHS website to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines.
Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said:“Making it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life is a priority for us, DHSC and for NHS England.
“Losing our ‘measles-free’ status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock added that the DHSC’s strategy will “renew focus on vaccinations — especially for our children — and this time we will eliminate measles for good”.
The DHSC said it will be working with partners to develop the strategy in the coming weeks, and will consider a range of policy options.