The BMA said today that the government’s expanded flu vaccination programme, announced today, is sensible given the current health climate. However we need to see more detail about how it will be rolled out, alongside assurances that it will be properly resourced. The Government must not lose sight of the need to make every effort to prevent a second spike in the Covid-19 virus. If this was to happen - and that risk is very real - the flu vaccination programme would have little impact.
The government’s announcement comes on the day that the BMA is urging the Government to ensure more people take advantage of routine vaccinations after a concerning fall in coverage rates in recent years.
In a report published today1, the Association says that many immunisation programmes have been disrupted because of the pandemic as the NHS focused on responding to immediate health concerns and now it’s imperative that they are re-started and that people are encouraged to be immunised.
It also notes that childhood vaccination in particular has plummeted during this time – dropping by around a fifth in total – despite advice that childhood immunisation should continue during Covid-19.
According to NHS Digital, and highlighted in this report, coverage for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in England was at 94.5% in 2018-19, down from 94.9% in 2017-18 and below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The BMA’s report says that making people aware of the benefits of routine vaccinations, such as the MMR vaccine, is vital. This is not just for their wellbeing, but also when we consider worrying reports about a lack of confidence in a potential Covid-19 vaccine and the implications that could have for general uptake.
Altogether, the BMA is calling for action to:
- widen vaccine availability and target specific populations
- ensure adequate funding to deliver fully resourced immunisation services
- raise public awareness and understanding of immunisation programmes
- ensure health service IT supports vaccine uptake
- increase vaccine uptake among NHS workers
Dr Peter English, BMA public health medicine committee chair, said:
“It’s been incredibly worrying to watch the decline in vaccine rates in the UK over the past few years – for example, we lost our ‘measles-free’ status in 2019 and the pandemic has of course meant even fewer vaccinations have been carried out as the NHS battled on all fronts to keep the virus at bay.
“Routine vaccination is so important, and many doctors can remember a time without it. Vaccination against common but often serious ailments has changed the face of public health and are rightly ranked by WHO, alongside clean water, as the public health intervention which has had the greatest impact on the world’s health.
“That’s why, as we recover from this pandemic, everything must be done to increase vaccine uptake – particularly as we head into flu season and vulnerable people are at greater risk of becoming ill.
“This means not only making sure the public understands the importance of getting vaccinated, but also resourcing the health service with what it needs to deliver this; adequate funding for immunisation programmes, IT services, and encouraging staff to protect themselves too.
“Health has never been more at the forefront of people’s minds, and the Government needs to utilise this as a matter of urgency – not just for the sake of the population now, but the generations that follow.”
Responding to the Government’s announcement on flu vaccines, Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:
“Whilst GP practices continue to work hard to do all they can to support patients during the Covid-19 pandemic they are also very aware of the vital importance this winter of protecting as many people as possible from the serious impact of influenza. It’s good to see the government respond to our call to expand the flu programme but we will also need their support to encourage as many eligible people as possible to get a flu immunisation, as well as ensure vaccination supplies reach practices quickly and in sufficient quantities to meet patient need.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.