Chris Green MP: We are losing sight of the unrivalled success of vaccinations
Whilst remaining generally high, childhood vaccination rates in the UK have decreased annually for the last few years, says Chris Green MP.
Vaccinations are one of the most effective public health interventions developed during human history. Beginning over a thousand years ago in China, through becoming widespread in the Western world because of the work of Dr Edward Jenner, to their ubiquitous use in the modern world, vaccines are responsible for saving the lives of millions. They have eliminated whole diseases, with the World Health Organisation declaring in 1980 that smallpox had been officially eradicated, and others such as polio being relegated to outbreaks in only a handful of countries around the globe. Vaccinations have been an almost unrivalled human success story.
Unfortunately, we are losing sight of that story in the UK and other high-income countries in the West. Whilst remaining generally high, childhood vaccination rates in the UK have decreased annually for the last few years.
The reasons for this decline are complex. Many reports have been cited of growing vaccine misinformation on social media and the internet, which go unchecked and are never effectively challenged, but the British Society for Immunology has found that this is not necessarily the major driver behind the drop. Instead, a more nuanced mix of the World Health Organization’s ‘3Cs’, confidence, complacency and convenience, is at work.
Vaccination can be a victim of its own success. One of the reasons that a minority of parents today do not have their children immunised is because of the perceived diminished risk of once common childhood diseases. Of course, this perception has only come about thanks to the historic vaccination efforts in the first place. Diphtheria, for example, which killed an average of 3500 people a year before a vaccine was introduced. However, today there is an average of zero deaths per year, and the number of confirmed cases each year is in the low double digits. This success can feed a sense of complacency. Consequently, it’s important to remind people that just because the threat is dormant, it remains a threat.
Convenience is another important factor. Vaccination needs to be delivered at a time and place that is appealing, comfortable, convenient and accessible. The wider provision of vaccination services, such as school visits by community nurses or mobile vaccination services could increase accessibility, along with more active outreach into individual communities that are under-vaccinated.
Many of the factors influencing vaccination uptake are interlinked. Convenience issues, for example, can affect confidence: people think, “if it were really important, it’d be made easier”. The problem is undoubtedly more complex than it first appears, but it is far from insurmountable. Through making services more accessible, increasing public awareness of vaccination’s benefits and the danger that these deadly childhood diseases still pose, and provision of the right public health funding for vaccination services, we can make a real difference and reverse this vaccination decline before it’s too late.
Chris Green is Conservative MP for Bolton West.