Parents could face 'bold action' for failing to vaccinate their children

Experts are warning parents could face 'bold action' if they refuse to vaccinate their children [Photo: Getty]

Parents are being warned they could face action for not vaccinating their children, as new figures reveal drops in the uptake of all childhood jabs.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the fall in immunisation rates was “unacceptable” and refused to rule out “bold action”.

NHS Digital data shows the uptake of all 13 routine childhood vaccines has fallen in the last 12 months.

The figures for 2018-19 showed uptake of the first dose of the MMR vaccine fell from 91.2% to 90.3% in England, the fifth year in a row it has dropped.

Meanwhile, uptake of the 5-in-1 vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, whooping cough (pertussis), tetanus, polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), is at its lowest level since 2008-09.

The data shows that England was below the 95% coverage recommended by the World Health Organisation on all bar one of the measurements in 2018-19.

READ MORE: Should parents be forced to vaccinate their children?

Health officials warned that children were being put at risk by the decision to shun these routine vaccinations.

Experts are concerned a mix of complacency and social media scare stories are putting people off life-saving jabs.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock 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.”

Public Health England's head of immunisations Dr Mary Ramsay warned that while the percentage changes might seem minimal, the overall impact should not be underestimated.

"There are big drops in terms of public health. The trend is concerning.

"No parent should be in any doubt of the devastating impact of these diseases.

"It's vital that everyone recognises the value of vaccines and takes up this life-saving offer."

The new figures come as earlier this month senior GPs called for a policy change that would see the MMR jab be compulsory for children before they are allowed to start school.

In a letter to ministers, seen by The Guardian, doctors would like to see a ban on children starting primary school until they’ve had their MMR vaccine.

The call comes after the UK lost its measles-free status amid soaring rates of measles.

Immunisation rates have dropped in the last year [Photo: Getty]

READ MORE: Your child's vaccination schedule: Each injection available - and what it does

It isn’t the first time the health secretary has hinted at potential action against parents who don’t vaccinate their children.

Back in April he hinted that children who have not been given the MMR vaccine could be banned from school.

Matt Hancock refused to “rule out” the possibility that children who have skipped their immunisations would be sent home from lessons.

Analysis by the children’s charity UNICEF had found that more than half a million children in the UK were at risk of contracting measles because they skipped their recommended vaccinations in the last eight years.

The Health Secretary claimed to be “particularly worried” about vaccination scare stories that are often fuelled on social media sites.

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4 Today: “One of the things I am particularly worried about is the spread of anti-vaccination messages online.”

Experts also recently warned that children who catch measles are more vulnerable to other serious infections for the next two to three years.

Scientists believe the disease wipes out a child’s immunity to other illnesses.

The findings would help explain the mysterious large drops in mortality of up to 50% following the introduction of measles vaccinations, the researchers said.

If the UK did go ahead with a school ban on unvaccinated children, it wouldn’t be the first country to introduce the policy.

July saw Germany making measles vaccinations compulsory for children at all schools and kindergartens from next year amid concern about the number of cases of the infection in recent years.

In March Italian children were told not to turn up for school or nursery if they are not vaccinated.

Under a new law, children under six will be legally turned away from nursery. And while children of school age – which in Italy is six and above – cannot be turned away, schools will reserve the right to impose a fine of up to €500 (£425).

Also in March a New York county hit by a measles outbreak banned non-vaccinated minors from public places in a bid to prevent the once-eliminated disease from spreading.

And in Australia, the government clamped down on its “no jab, no pay” policy in July by issuing further fines for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.