Image of Dr Philippa Whitford MP speaking in Parliament

World Immunisation Week 2019

World Immunisation Week 2019

For World Immunisation Week, in my role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccinations for All, I hosted a meeting with various stakeholders organised by the health advocacy organisation, Results UK. Joining us were members from the World Health Organisation (WHO) from Geneva and government department Ministers from the Department for International Development (DfID)’s Global Fund team to discuss our forthcoming report, which we will be looking at vaccine confidence.

In January, the APPG launched our latest report entitled ‘The Next Decade of Vaccines: Addressing the challenges that remain towards achieving vaccinations for all’. The report looked at the need for radical global action to improve access to vaccination for children living in hard to reach areas including war zones and was very well received. The UK is one of the leading funders of global immunisation projects in developing countries but progress is in danger of being undermined by falling vaccine uptake in high income countries such as the US as well as in Europe.

Later in the week, I took part in the World Immunisation Day debate. It is a crucial time for immunisation globally as we are seeing a worrying fall in vaccination uptake, resulting in the resurgence of diseases we thought we were close to eradicating. Measles is of particular concern, with latest figures showing there were 82,000 cases of measles across Europe last year, tragically resulting in 72 deaths. Because it has been under the radar in recent decades, many of us have forgotten that measles is a killer. Indeed, it is estimated between one and three people in every 1,000 who catch measles will die and for those who survive, around the same number will develop serious complications such as blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling) and pneumonia.

Although the rise has been more significant across continental Europe, in the UK more than half a million children missed crucial measles vaccines between 2010 and 2017, resulting in the quadrupling in measles cases in just one year. In Scotland, we are lucky to have maintained the uptake of childhood vaccinations above the World Health Organisation’s recommended level of 95%, which is critical to creating community protection for children who cannot be vaccinated and for newborn babies who are too young to be vaccinated. In England, however, the uptake of many childhood vaccines has dropped below 95% because of what is described as “vaccine hesitancy”. There are many reasons for this, including anti-vaccine campaigns on social media, but difficulty of access and complacency regarding the threat of these diseases are even bigger contributors. Sadly, vaccines are a victim of their own success as people do not see the awful impact of these conditions because they are so uncommon. If people saw the damage of conditions like polio, as I did on a study visit to Ethiopia, I doubt anyone wouldn’t hesitate to vaccinate their child against such an appalling disease. In the last ten years alone, vaccines have saved at least 20 million lives across the globe, making vaccination the single most successful health intervention ever, and we must do all that we can to reverse the trend of falling uptake.

My whole contribution to the debate can be viewed here

Later this year, the APPG will be carrying out an inquiry into the worrying decline in vaccination uptake. Vaccinations are so important, and critical if we want to eradicate diseases such as polio. Shockingly, only 7% of children in the UK are given the full 11 vaccinations the WHO recommend, and vaccinations are the most cost-effective way to keep people healthy. Vaccines are also being used to prevent cervical cancer in young women and have a key role to play in combatting the threat of antibiotic resistance but this is at risk if vaccination rates continue to fall.