Big drop in vaccine uptake
A sharp drop in the uptake of two childhood vaccines has been highlighted by new research which found that a significant number of parents are still worried about vaccine safety.
Following a change to the immunisation schedule which was extended from 12 to 13 months in July 2008, the uptake of the Men C (meningococcal serogroup C) and the Hib (haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccines, now due at 13 months, dropped from 95 per cent to 80 per cent in the northwest, according to Louise Cullen, a surveillance scientist with the HSE.
She said given that 95 per cent is the target uptake required to protect the population, the drop was a cause for concern.
Ms Cullen, who presented her findings at the recent annual research conference in Sligo General Hospital, said the uptake of these vaccines had been better in the northwest than the national average, which also dropped from a slightly lower base to about 80 per cent. There had been a slight recovery to an 85 per cent uptake but this was far below the 95 per cent target needed to keep diseases out of the community, she stressed.
“Because of its name, some parents may believe that the haemophilus influenzae booster has something to do with the flu,” said the researcher who pointed out that the vaccine protects against the life-threatening disease meningitis. She said there was a case to be made for re-labelling vaccines to illustrate clearly to parents the purpose of the different shots.
Since 2008 the Hib booster is offered at 13 months, rather than 12 months. The third dose of the Men C vaccine, which used to be given at six months, is also now given at 13 months. “We don’t offer vaccines to babies because mum is on maternity leave and it is convenient then,” said Ms Cullen.
She explained that these diseases were more dangerous for babies than for older children and it was important to have babies vaccinated by the time they are 13 months.
Researchers found a number of factors contributed to the drop. Questionnaires returned by 250 parents in the northwest showed that families with three or more children were more likely to be defaulters, possibly because they were familiar with the 12-month schedule and were unaware that any boosters were required at 13 months.
“In many cases parents delay rather than default,” explained Ms Cullen.
The scientist, who is based in the Department of Public Health Medicine with the HSE North West, found that children who were cared for by a childminder rather than in a more structured setting such as a creche or playgroup were less likely to have had all their shots. “We have immunisation nurses who target creches,” explained Ms Cullen who said there was now clearly a need to target registered childminders in education campaigns. She added that there was a possibility that parents worried more about their children picking up dangerous bacteria in a creche or playgroup, which might prompt them to keep up to date with vaccines.
One of the most worrying findings was that 50 per cent of those who defaulted had safety concerns. Ms Cullen said that despite a successful campaign to alleviate fears about, for example, the MMR vaccine, it was clear that parents still worried about vaccines.
Many of those with concerns simply delayed rather than refused to have their children immunised, she added.
The study found that switching GPs and forgetting to keep records in the vaccine passport provided for every child at birth, were also factors in parents defaulting.