Health officials encourage teen vaccination as uptake rates fall

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Wednesday 26th April 2023

Health officials are encouraging teenagers to have routine vaccinations as data shows that uptake rates have fallen since the pandemic.  Experts have warned that teens could be at risk of rare conditions following a significant drop in vaccination rates during the Covid pandemic. Statistics show that there was a 7% decrease in uptake rates for tetanus, diphtheria and polio between 2019/2020 and 2021/2022. The same trend was identified in meningitis vaccination rates. 

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) suggested that many teenagers who missed out on routine vaccines during the pandemic have now had their injections but stressed that vaccination rates were still below levels recorded before the start of the pandemic. Health experts are urging parents of eligible children to make sure that their children have the vaccines to offer protection against diseases that are rare but could become more common. 

Dr Vanessa Saliba, from the UKHSA, said that vaccines are available for children and teenagers who missed having their injections due to clinic closures or disruption caused by Covid. Parents and carers can contact their GP, as well as school-based nurses and immunisation teams to organise an appointment. Vaccinations are available free of charge. Dr Saliba urged those who aren’t up to date with the routine vaccinations to come forward to protect themselves and others. Young people like to socialise and many will be looking forward to going to events and festivals this summer and spending time with friends and family. A simple, quick appointment will offer protection and help to keep disease at bay in schools, communities and wider society. 

The three-in-one vaccination, which protects against tetanus, polio and diphtheria, is recommended for 14-year-olds and it is provided for eligible children for free. Schools usually provide the injections. The dose for teens follows on from childhood vaccinations against the same diseases, which are given at 8 weeks, 12 weeks and 16 weeks and before children start primary school. It is essential to have all five doses to gain maximum protection. 

The meningitis vaccine, known as MenACWY, is routinely offered to children at school at the same age but it can be provided by GPs for those up to age of 25. Anyone who is under 25 and hasn’t had the meningitis vaccine at school can contact their GP surgery to make an appointment.

Before the Covid outbreak, uptake rates for routine vaccinations were high at around 88% in England, but data suggests that they fell to 69% in 13-14-year-olds in 2022. The rate was higher in 14-15-year-olds, which suggests that many of those who missed the injections during the pandemic have now been immunised. National director for vaccination and screening, Steve Russell, encouraged parents of teenagers who haven’t had their vaccinations to come forward and take advantage of the immunisation programme. The vaccines have been used for many years and provide a safe and effective way of reducing the risk of contracting rare diseases. The vaccination programme has helped to lower levels of serious disease, with many conditions becoming obsolete in the UK as a result.

Health experts have warned that low uptake levels could put teenagers at risk and stressed that it is very easy to arrange an appointment either through the child’s school or their GP surgery. Childhood vaccinations are free. Parents can access more information about the injections and the diseases they protect against by contacting their GP, visiting the NHS website or talking to representatives from their child’s school immunisation team. The pandemic disrupted vaccinations for teenagers in schools but the programme has now been up and running for several months and those who missed out can make the necessary arrangements to catch up and protect themselves and their friends and family members.