The proportion of two-year-old children in England having the MMR vaccine has fallen for the first time in recent years, new figures show.
Statistics published yesterday by the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that in 2014-15, 92.3% of children had the jab to protect them from measles, mumps and rubella.
However, that figure is down from a high of 92.7% the previous year, making 2014-15 the first year since 2007-08 that there has not been a rise in MMR coverage.
The national figures mask regional variations in uptake. In some London boroughs and the south east the proportion getting the vaccine was less than 80% – well below the target rate of 95%.
However, parts of the West Midlands and the north of England were immunising more than 95%, according to the centre’s main report. And Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all have figures above 95%.
While the overall dip in MMR take-up was described as a concern, experts said it may not be entirely caused by fewer children actually getting the jab.
Instead, they suggested it might be down to the fact that some vaccinations were not being recorded by hard-pressed nurses and other health professionals.
“It is disappointing that uptake of NHS immunisations have not continued to rise, however the falls are very small,” said Dr David Ellman, immunisation expert for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
“This could be read as children not receiving the vaccination or alternatively, it could be a lack of data collection linked to considerable pressures on staff working in the NHS.
“In view of the considerable upheaval that the NHS is going through, it’s a credit to staff that we haven’t seen bigger falls in uptake,” she said.
Overall, national coverage figures reported for most routine childhood vaccinations at one and two years fell slightly in 2014-15 for the second consecutive year.
“The increase in flu vaccinations among pregnant women is a welcome one”
In contrast, coverage figures reported nationally for most of the routine childhood vaccinations at five years showed small increases in 2014-15.
But figures reported for the Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis and Polio (DTaP/IPV) booster, as measured at five years, showed a slight decrease for the second year in a row.
In 2014-15, 94.2% of children reaching their first birthday were reported to have completed primary immunisation courses against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio and Haemophilus influenzae type b (DTaP/IPV/Hib). This compares with 94.3% in 2013-14 and 94.7% in 2012-13.
Meanwhile, midwives welcomed an increase in uptake of the flu jab among pregnant women, which was shown in the figures.
Vaccine uptake in pregnant women increased from 39.8% in 2013 to 2014 to 44.1% in 2014 to 2015.
The increase was mostly due to the increase in vaccinations among pregnant women not in a clinical risk group, which increased from 38.2% in 2013 to 2014 to 42.5% this season.
There was also an increase in uptake for pregnant women in a clinical risk group – 61.5% uptake compared with 59.0% in 2013 to 2014.
“The increase in flu vaccinations among pregnant women is a welcome one,” said Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives.
“The government is working hard to raise awareness of the need for vaccination and the increase shows this is bearing fruit,” she said. “I hope the numbers continue to rise.”
However, seasonal flu jab coverage for the over 65 age group in England was 72.7% in 2014-15, compared with 73.2% recorded in 2013-14.
In 2013-14, the introduction of influenza vaccination for healthy children began with jabs offered to all children aged two and three years of age. In 2014-15, it was also offered for the first time to those aged four.
Coverage for all two years olds in England was 38.5% in 2014-15, for all three year olds it was 41.3% and for four years olds it was 32.9%.