Devon County Council’s (DCC) public health chief has backed calls to make the MMR vaccination compulsory before children can attend school – following a rise in measles outbreaks.
Senior GPs have urged the Government to have four- and five-year-old pupils’ vaccination statuses checked before they start their education.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has expressed interest in mandatory vaccinations for children before they are allowed to go to school.
Asked by Councillor Rob Hannaford, leader of the opposition Labour Group at last Thursday’s full council meeting, Cllr Roger Croad, cabinet member for public health, said he agreed there was a need for some compulsion.
He said the fact the UK recently lost its measles-free status because of the fall in rates of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) immunisation was a concern.
As was the fact coverage of 95 per cent of the population is necessary to prevent outbreaks, but among children aged 24 months, vaccination in England has dropped from 91.2 per cent in 2017/18 to 90.3 per cent in 2018-19.
Cllr Croad said: “As a result of low coverage, below the 95 per cent target for herd immunity, there has been an increase in cases and outbreaks of measles, which is a highly infectious and serious illness.”
The number of children in Devon who have had the MMR vaccine before their second birthday has dropped from 94.1 per cent in 2013/14 to 92.7 per cent in 2017/18.
However, the number who have had the second dose of the vaccine before they start school has risen from 89.9 per cent to 90.3 per cent.
Cllr Hannaford asked: “What are the current trends and numbers within the Devon County Council area?
“Furthermore, can the cabinet member please inform council what work is being done across departments, and with key partners, to inform, educate and promote the vital importance of vaccinations for children to protect their immediate and long term health?”
Cllr Croad said: “The national target for coverage of childhood immunisations is 95 per cent. Of the 13 routine childhood vaccination programmes, the national target was achieved for five programmes in Devon in 2017/18.
“While coverage continues to be high, efforts are focused on reducing local variation between general practices and Devon’s communities.
“Both nationally and locally, measles continues to be of concern following publication of Dr Andrew Wakefield’s disgraced research and mis-information about vaccine safety shared on websites and via social media.
“As a result of low coverage, below the 95 per cent target for herd immunity, there has been an increase in cases and outbreaks of measles, which is a highly infectious and serious illness.
“This council works closely with PHE and NHS to support local action to achieve and sustain greater than 95 per cent coverage across the routine childhood immunisation programme.
“This includes participating in regional and local immunisation networks and groups, supporting national and local campaigns, and working in partnership with families, education settings, public health nursing, immunisation providers, primary care colleagues and other key stakeholders to promote the benefits of immunisation.
“This year, Devon County Council is supporting delivery of the local response to the UK’s Measles and Rubella Elimination Strategy 2019 by working with Devon’s locality immunisation group to explore personalised approaches to invitations and extended access, catch-up campaigns in primary care, and strengthening surveillance and response where cases of measles occur.
“The council is also supporting targeted work with individual practices who are struggling to achieve good coverage of childhood immunisations.”
Mr Hancock had said: “Falling childhood vaccination rates are unacceptable. Everyone has a role to play in halting this decline.
“The loss of our measles-free status is a stark reminder that devastating diseases can, and will, resurface. We need to be bold and I will not rule out action so that every child is properly protected.”
Asked what he thought about Mr Hancock’s expression of interest in mandatory vaccinations for children before they could attend school, Cllr Croad added: “Measles is a concern and we don’t want it down here. I agree that we need some level of compulsion. Bring back the benevolent dictator.”