Doctors union urge more vaccine take up

The doctors union is urging the UK Government to ensure more people take advantage of routine vaccinations including the seasonal flu jab with the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting immunisation programmes.

Prime minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton on July 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prime minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask as he visits Tollgate Medical Centre in Beckton on July 24, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Jeremy Selwyn - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

In a report published today the British Medical Association (BMA) say that with the NHS focused on responding to immediate health concerns it’s imperative that vaccines are re-started and that people are encouraged to be immunised.

It also notes that childhood vaccination in particular has plummeted during this time – dropping by around a fifth in total – despite advice that childhood immunisation should continue during Covid-19.

The report comes on the same day Boris Johnson said people opposed to vaccinations are “nuts” as he promoted an expanded programme of NHS flu jabs.

During a visit to a medical centre in east London, the Prime Minister asked staff what they thought of anti-vaxxers, adding: “There’s all these anti-vaxxers now. They are nuts, they are nuts.”

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Lothian health chiefs urge people to take up flu vaccination

Several polls have suggested some Britons are feeling apprehensive about having a Covid-19 vaccine.

A coronavirus jab is seen by many experts as a key route out of the pandemic.

The anti-vaccination movement has been growing globally in recent years, fuelled in part by social media.

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A paper published in The Lancet in 1998 by Dr Andrew Wakefield - and since widely discredited - suggested a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism in children, which led to a huge drop in MMR vaccine rates.

Last year, the World Health Organisation identified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 health threats to the world.

According to NHS Digital, and highlighted in the BMA report, coverage for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in England was at 94.5 per cent in 2018-19, down from 94.9 per cent in 2017-18 and below the 95 per cent target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The take-up of the first dose of the MMR jab in Scotland is slightly above the WHO target.

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The BMA’s report says that making people aware of the benefits of routine vaccinations, such as the MMR vaccine, is vital.

This is not just for their wellbeing, but also when we consider worrying reports about a lack of confidence in a potential Covid-19 vaccine and the implications that could have for general uptake.

Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said: “It’s been incredibly worrying to watch the decline in vaccine rates in the UK over the past few years – for example, we lost our ‘measles-free’ status in 2019 and the pandemic has of course meant even fewer vaccinations have been carried out as the NHS battled on all fronts to keep the virus at bay.

“Routine vaccination is so important, and many doctors can remember a time without it.

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“Vaccination against common but often serious ailments has changed the face of public health and are rightly ranked by WHO, alongside clean water, as the public health intervention which has had the greatest impact on the world’s health.

“That’s why, as we recover from this pandemic, everything must be done to increase vaccine uptake – particularly as we head into flu season and vulnerable people are at greater risk of becoming ill.

“This means not only making sure the public understands the importance of getting vaccinated, but also resourcing the health service with what it needs to deliver this; adequate funding for immunisation programmes, IT services, and encouraging staff to protect themselves too.

“Health has never been more at the forefront of people’s minds, and the Government needs to utilise this as a matter of urgency – not just for the sake of the population now, but the generations that follow.”

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Altogether, the BMA is calling for action to: widen vaccine availability and target specific populations; ensure adequate funding to deliver fully resourced immunisation services; raise public awareness and understanding of immunisation programmes; ensure health service IT supports vaccine uptake and increase vaccine uptake among NHS workers.Professor Jackie Taylor, President of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow said: “If we’re to make sure our health service is ready for next winter we need to start to plan now.

“Over the past few years the uptake of the annual influenza immunisation programme amongst NHS staff has been as low as 40-60 percent.

“If we’re to continue to provide the best service for patients we need to ensure that we increase the proportion of health service staff that receive this vital protection.

“This must mean that we should aim for everyone in the NHS, from doctors and nurses to cleaners and hospital porters, to be immunised.

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“At the same time, we need another extra effort to ensure that social care staff are not left behind in this effort.

“It’s vital that we maintain capacity in this service if we’re to keep patients safe.

“That’s why we’re calling on governments and NHS organisations across the UK to also include all those who work in care homes in their flu vaccination plans for this year.

“We can’t have healthy patients without healthy staff across the NHS and social care service. If we expect our older patients and those with other underlying health risks to have early influenza immunisation, it is reasonable to ask health and care staff to be similarly protected. I’d encourage all workers to make plans now to get their ‘flu jab this year.”

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