Vaccinations and developmental checks reduce likelihood of hospital visits during childhood, a study by UK researchers has confirmed.
They carried out the largest analysis of infant vaccinations and NHS developmental checks to date, revealing they reduce the risk of emergency hospital visits throughout childhood.
“Children who slip through the net are at significant risk of illness, and these risks accrue across childhood”
The Imperial College London study followed 319,730 children in England until they were 13 years old, from 2000 to 2013.
The researchers calculated that, while uptake was generally high, around 13,500 children per year in England might not receive vaccines and 83,000 might miss developmental checks.
Young children normally have a one in four risk of being admitted to hospital in their first year of life but for the infants in the study who did not receive their vaccinations, this risk rose to one in two.
In addition, pre-schoolers who missed their vaccinations were found to be six times more likely to be admitted to hospital with a preventable disease, such as measles.
The study also revealed that children whose vaccinations were delayed also had a higher risk of an emergency hospital admission in their childhood years.
Infants who missed out on health and development checks, in which GPs or health visitors assess mental and physical development – were over four and a half times as likely to end up in hospital.
“Emergency hospital admissions for children have been steadily rising over recent years”
The researchers, who followed children from a sample of 363 GP practices, found the most common cause of admission was an infectious illness, which was responsible for more than a third of overall.
Children who had a chronic condition, such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy, were at particularly high risk of an emergency hospital admission if they missed out on vaccinations or development checks.
For instance, children with asthma had a fivefold risk if they missed checks and vaccinations and for children with epilepsy the risk was elevenfold.
Overall, the study revealed that 98% of all infants who participated were fully vaccinated and 87% had received developmental checks.
Further analysis revealed children who did not receive vaccinations or developmental checks were more likely to live in deprived areas, have a teenage mother, or be first born.
The researchers highlighted that vaccines were administered to children starting at eight weeks and continuing until the age of 13 years.
Meanwhile, developmental checks were conducted by the NHS during a child’s first few days, at two months, then one year, and finally at two years old to monitor a child’s growth, hearing, and vision.
Warning over ‘huge’ variation in health visitor checks
Lead study author Dr Elizabeth Cecil said: “The fact that the majority of children received vaccinations and developmental checks is a fantastic achievement for our health system.
“However, the children who slip through the net are at significant risk of illness, and these risks accrue across childhood,” she said.
Co-author Dr Dougal Hargreaves added: “Children’s health in the UK lags behind other Western European countries, and emergency hospital admissions for children have been steadily rising over recent years.
“Ensuring as many children as possible receive vaccinations and development checks may help combat this rise and improve the health of children and young people,” he said.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Health Research, with the findings published in the journal BMC Medicine.