The drive to vaccinate children in London against polio and ensure they are up to date with key immunisations is gearing up for a second phase, which seeks to ensure as many children as possible are protected against serious illness.
From Monday 15 May 2023, parents and carers of children aged one to 11 who are not up to date with their vaccinations, will be offered vaccinations for their children against polio and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) through primary schools and community venues. They can also contact their GP surgery at any time to get their children up to date with their vaccinations.
Polio and measles currently pose a particular threat to the capital. Traces of the polio virus were found in sewage samples in North East London last year and in August 2022 the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed that the UK had a ‘circulating’ form of polio that, on rare occasions, can cause serious illness such as paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated. There is no cure for polio, vaccination is the only protection.
As a result, children aged one to nine were offered booster and catch-up jabs between August and December 2022 in phase 1 of the London polio campaign. While the programme was successful in giving booster doses to around 345,000 children, far fewer of the least protected children - those who were behind on their vaccination schedule - came forward. There is also significant variation in vaccine uptake among different socio-economic and ethnic groups and areas of London. Those who have not been fully vaccinated could still be at risk of catching polio.
Meanwhile, the threat from measles is growing, with recent data published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) showing a rise in measles cases in London, where there were 33 confirmed cases between 1 January and 20 April 2023 alone.
London has significantly lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other regions, with only 74.1% and 73.8% of children having received their full schedule of MMR and polio jabs respectively by the age of five. These figures are well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.
This latest phase targets the most vulnerable children – those who are either unvaccinated or have missed routine vaccinations – with both polio and MMR jabs. The programme is being delivered primarily through schools by school age immunisation service (SAIS) providers, which have a strong track record in delivering vaccinations to large numbers of children and reaching those in under-served communities.
Parents of primary school aged children who may have missed a vaccine will be contacted by the NHS through their school age immunisation service (SAIS) provider. A registered healthcare professional will be able to talk them through the local offer, explain the consent process, answer any questions and arrange an appointment. Alternatively, parents can check their child’s red book and contact their GP to book an appointment for any missed vaccinations. Parents of children aged 1-4 should also contact their GP.
Chief nurse for the NHS in London Jane Clegg said: “London has historically had lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other regions and this was made worse by the pandemic.
“We all want to keep children safe and protected from serious illness, which is why we’re doing everything we can to support parents across London to ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations, especially polio and MMR. These vaccines will increase children’s protection and have been safely given to millions of children.”
Visit the NHS Polio and MMR vaccination website for more information about the Polio and MMR vaccination in London.
THere are also answers to common questions about childhood vaccinations on the Frequently Asked Questions page.