Parents urged to get children vaccinated after low take up

A summer catch-up vaccination programme will be offered for children

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

Children play ringaringarosies
Photo: Jay Chen on Unsplash

A polio vaccine catch-up is being unrolled because of low take-up rates, after samples of the potentially paralysing virus were found in sewage in north London last year.

More than 378,200 children were jabbed across London between August and the middle of March after last year’s urgent vaccine campaign, with 157,600 vaccines in the first two months.

Heath experts discovered samples in sewage from the Beckton sewage treatment network in the spring of 2022, and expanded tests across north London and other cities in England.

Scientists said they have not found any new samples since early November which “suggests transmission in London has significantly reduced”.

Polio can have serious consequences for some people, including paralysis and it can be life-threatening if it affects muscles used for breathing.

The last case of polio in the UK was in 1984 and the discovery raised the alarm.

Since early 2022, experts have expanded their testing across London and found polio in 135 isolates from 30 samples from sewage in Barnet, Brent, Camden, Enfield, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, and Waltham Forest.

They later tested in Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, City of Bristol, Bury, Castle Point, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, North Tyneside, Newcastle upon Tyne, Gateshead, Nottingham, Preston, Salford, Sheffield and Watford but did not detect any polio.

The World Health Organisation said the strain of polio could cause serious illness, such as paralysis, in people who are not fully vaccinated. However no paralytic cases have been reported in the UK but the virus recently caused paralysis of people in the USA and Israel.

Polio can also cause symptoms such as fever, headaches and muscle pain and can also lead to complications that affect the brain and nerves, such as muscle weakness.

The NHS will be running a vaccine catch-up programme in the summer term, which also includes other childhood vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella.

Dr Vaness Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UK Health Security Agency said: “While there are early signs of reduced spread of the poliovirus in London, we need to continue to improve uptake of childhood vaccines in all communities. Until we reach every last child, we cannot be sure that we will not see a case of paralysis. Even a single case of paralysis from polio would be a tragedy, as it is completely preventable.

Health bosses are still concerned as take-up rates amongst Londoners lag behind the rest of the country. Just 65 per cent of five-year-olds are vaccinated in London, compared with 83 per cent across England. The picture is higher for one years-olds with 87 per cent vaccinated, compared with 92 per cent in England.

Hackney GPs wrote last year to parents urging them to get their children vaccinated.

Dr Tehseen Khan, a GP at Spring Hill Practice and joint clinical director of Springfield Park Primary Care Network said he was worried about the “very low childhood vaccination uptake” in North Hackney.

Doctors warned parents that skipping these vaccines “leaves us vulnerable to an outbreak of polio and other vaccine-preventable infections such as measles. ”

There was a measles outbreak amongst 400 children in Hackney and Haringey in 2018-19, and some children had to be treated in hospital.

GPs urged parents to get their children’s vaccines up-to-date and contact their surgery if they needed to get them booked.

In 2022, according to Department of Health and Social Care, Polio vaccine rates of children by their first birthday in Islington were 89 percent and Polio vaccine rates by fifth birthday were 70 percent.

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