“The medical system has never been overwhelmed, and we have never told parents not to turn up for vaccination. Now more than ever it’s more important because, if we don’t have coverage, we could have a resurgence of diseases that are far worse than coronavirus.
“But this isn’t all about parents. GPs could clearly do better and be more reassuring.
“There are also big concerns for secondary school children who usually get vaccinated at school against meningitis and HPV. These vaccines are not just protecting children, they’re protecting the population. If coverage falls then we are all in trouble.”
Last year, the UK lost its measles “elimination status” because of historical low vaccine uptake, and child specialists at UCL Great Ormond Street Hospital and Imperial College London are concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problem.
In a recent article in the BMJ, professors Sonia Saxena and Helen Bedford, and public health medicine specialist registrar Helen Skirrow, warned that Britain could experience outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases if vaccination levels fall, undoing decades of progress.
The experts said that although vaccination should have remained a priority, the message got lost amid the “Stay Home, Protect the NHS” guidance, which led some people to think they should not contact the health service.
“The public is now being urged to ‘Stay Alert’, which provides little assurance for families that the NHS is open for routine care,” wrote the specialists.
“We need clearer Government messaging that reaches all groups, and more support in the community to inform and reassure pregnant women and new parents about the importance and safety of attending primary care for vaccines during the pandemic.”
Figures show that parents have been avoiding taking their children to get medical care.
Children’s visits to emergency departments fell by over 90 per cent during April, and a survey of health visitors in May found that more than 60 per cent of families were considering cancelling or postponing their child’s vaccinations.
“Urgent action is required to maintain vaccination rates and limit preventable infections,” the experts added. “Primary care teams also need to follow up missed vaccinations quickly by strengthening reminder systems and providing opportunistic vaccination.”