Children in London offered polio and MMR vaccinations through primary schools

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 today, 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.Traces of the polio virus were found in sewage samples in northeast 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.

Around 345,000 children aged one to nine received a polio booster dose during phase one of the catch-up programme last year, but there are still children who are not fully up to date with their vaccinations and therefore could be at risk of catching polio.

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.”

Regional Deputy Director for UKHSA London, Dr Yvonne Young said:

“Poliovirus has the potential to spread where vaccine uptake is low and there is currently a very real risk of this for some of our communities in London. Measles is also currently circulating in London. Both infections are entirely preventable and the vaccines give excellent protection.

“Polio and measles can have tragic consequences if you are not vaccinated and can lead to serious long term health problems. Nobody wants this for their child so if anyone in your family is not fully vaccinated, it’s important to catch up as soon as possible.”