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Children who have not been immunised against preventable diseases such as measles could be banned from attending school if the health secretary chooses to bring in compulsory vaccination.
Matt Hancock, who admitted to being given Government advice this week on how to implement such a strategy, stated that there was a ‘strong argument’ for introducing this measure and that he was ‘looking very seriously’ into doing so.
In a fringe session at the Conservative Party Conference, Mr Hancock said yesterday: ‘Now you’ve got to make sure the system would work, because some children can’t be vaccinated and some may hold very strong religious convictions that you want to take into account.
‘But frankly, the proportion of people in either of those two categories is tiny compared to the 7% or 8% now who don’t get vaccinated.’
NHS Digital recently revealed that coverage of all routine childhood vaccinations has fallen – these include measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and the 5-in-1 vaccine, which covers tetanus, polio and whooping cough.
MMR coverage in England for infants at 24 months was only 90.3% in 2018/19, far below the 95% target and down by 0.9% from the previous year. The rising profile of the anti-vaccination movement is often cited as a reason for this decline.
Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Parents need to be aware of the clear, evidence-based findings about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
‘It is also important for people to understand that the decision to vaccinate their child doesn’t just affect them, but society as a whole, and that it would be incredibly dangerous if we were to lose the protection of herd immunisation against a host of serious, and potentially deadly, diseases.’
When vaccination rates drop below 95%, the population risks losing ‘herd immunity’ – leaving vulnerable people at risk, including children, the elderly and those who are immuno-compromised.
Dr Peter English, public health medicine committee chair at the British Medical Association said: ‘There is a clear need to curb the damaging spread of false and misleading information on vaccinations by enforcing standards and placing legal obligations on social media corporations.
‘More importantly still, the Government must implement an effective vaccination strategy that addresses the wide-ranging factors behind this decline and deliver adequate resources to ensure targeted, comprehensive vaccination programmes that reaches those most in need.’
Following a peak in 2013/14, there has been a 2.3% drop in MMR vaccine rates over the past five years.