Alarm as uptake of childhood vaccinations against harmful illness declines

Vaccination coverage against dangerous childhood illness has been declining in the Western Trust.
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A report by Auditor General Dorinnia Carville has found coverage has been declining for almost all diseases across the North and increasing numbers of children have not been vaccinated against harmful diseases.

She found that in the Western Trust coverage at 12 months against rotavirus – causing severe diarrhoea and vomiting – fell from 94.1% in 2015/16 to 91.8% in 2021/22.

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Vaccination rates in the WHSCT declined for all diseases measured, though the authority is still meeting its 95 per cent targets, with the exception of rotavirus.

The rate of childhood vaccination has been steadily declining.The rate of childhood vaccination has been steadily declining.
The rate of childhood vaccination has been steadily declining.

Coverage of the ‘6 in 1’ vaccine at 12 months against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib) and hepatitis B at 12 months fell from 97.7% in 2015/16 to 95.6% in 2021/22.

Coverage of the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PVC) at 12 months against pneumococcal disease, which is caused by a streptococcus bacterium and can cause and pneumonia, septicaemia and meningitis, fell from 2015/16 in 97.8% to 96.7% in 2021/22.

Coverage of the Meningococcal B (Men B) vaccine at 12 months against invasive meningococcal disease (IMD), which can lead to septicaemia, meningitis and multi-organ failure, fell from 96.9% in 2017/18 to 96.1% in 2021/22.

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Coverage of the Meningococcal C (Men C) vaccine at 12 months – also against IMD – fell from 96.8% in 2015/16 to 95.3% in 2021/22.

Coverage of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine at two years of age, against severe viral infections whose complications include meningitis and hearing loss, fell from 96.4% in 2015/16 to 95% in 2021/22 – just meeting the WHO target.

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Ms. Carville said it was positive that the vaccination rate in the WHSCT – and two other health authorities – was close to or above the WHO target, apart from in the case of rotavirus in the Western Trust.

Her report shows that particularly low levels of vaccination in Belfast where rates are well below 90 per cent in most cases are driving down the overall vaccination rate in the North.

With rotavirus vaccination coverage falling below the WHO target of 95% in the Western Trust, the Auditor General points out the implications.

“Research published in 2007 (prior to the introduction of a rotavirus vaccine in 2013) concluded that this infection was imposing a significant burden on the National Health Service.

"In children under five with acute gastroenteritis symptoms requiring medical attention, rotavirus had been the likely cause attributable to 45 per cent of hospital admissions; 25 per cent of GP consultations and 20 per cent of Emergency Department attendances.

"Following the vaccine’s introduction, rotavirus case numbers in NI began to decrease steadily, from a baseline rate of 500-600 cases annually, to 300 in 2013-14 and fewer than 200 by 2014-15,” reports Ms. Carville.