The chief executive of Public Health England has called on nurses to continue to “speak confidently” about the importance of vaccinations, as a new survey names health professionals as the most trusted source of information on the topic.
Research released today from PHE revealed that 93% of parents surveyed saw nurses and other health workers as the most trusted source of advice on immunisation.
“We must all speak confidently about the value of vaccines”
Earlier this year, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, warned that so-called vaccine-deniers were gaining traction on social media as part of the “fake news” movement.
But the PHE survey found that social media and the internet ranked the least trusted sources of immunisation information for parents.
To mark European Immunisation Week, which starts today, PHE boss Duncan Selbie reminded everyone working in health care to spread the message to the public that vaccines were safe and saved lives.
Mr Selbie said: “In a world where mis-information is so easily spread online we must all speak confidently about the value of vaccines and leave the public in no doubt that they are safe and save lives.
“It’s testament to our hard-working doctors and nurses that families trust them to provide accurate facts about the effectiveness of vaccines,” he added. ”They’re our vaccine heroes and we all have a role in supporting them.”
European Immunisation week is run by the World Health Organisation European Region to promote the core message that immunisation is vital to prevent diseases and protect life.
This year, on 24 to 30 April 2019, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the benefits of vaccines and to celebrate the “vaccine heroes” who contribute to protecting lives through vaccination.
The survey results are based on a total of 1,674 interviews carried out in 2018 with parents of children aged four and under.
They showed that just 9% of parents that had seen, read or heard about something that would cause them to doubt having their child immunised - down from a third in 2002.
In addition, 86% who had reported seeing or hearing information about vaccines, said the messages were in support of immunisation. Only 4% said the information was against.
“Inaccurate claims about the safety and effectiveness can lead to doubts about vaccines”
Dr Mary Ramsay
For the small percentage that had seen information to make them doubt having their child immunised, 35% reported they had found it on the internet and 14% noted social media as the main source.
Information that related to side effects was the main topic that parents cited that might have persuaded them against immunisation.
The survey also found that parental confidence in the immunisation programme was very high and the percentage of parents having all of their child’s vaccines done when due was up nearly 20% since 2010, to an all-time high of 91%.
PHE noted that for parents who did not vaccinate when due, most had postponed rather than refused the vaccination.
Overall, vaccine coverage remained high for most childhood vaccines, noted PHE.
According to the government body, the latest quarterly data suggested that vaccine coverage at 12 months of age increased by 0.4 to 0.9% for all vaccines compared with the previous quarter. This follows slow declines in uptake since 2012-13, it noted.
Dr Mary Ramsay
Head of immunisations at PHE, Dr Mary Ramsay, said: “We are very lucky in England to have one of the most comprehensive programmes in the world and it is really great to see that parents trust our programme and most children are benefiting from this offer.
“We know from our history that inaccurate claims about the safety and effectiveness can lead to doubts about vaccines – putting people at risk of serious illness,” she added.
Dr Ramsay warned that it was vital that all websites and social media platforms offered accurate coverage of vaccinations.
“But, we also know that there are other factors which affect vaccine uptake, such as sending out reminders and making GP appointments as convenient as possible – these things will make the biggest difference in reducing numbers of children not getting vaccinated,” she said.
“We cannot be complacent, as even small groups of children missing out on or delaying their vaccines leaves them and others vulnerable to serious or even fatal infections,” she added.