Helping children get up to date with essential Polio and MMR vaccinations
Parents and carers of children who are not up to date with their vaccinations are being encouraged to arrange the free-of-charge vaccinations their children need to protect against polio and measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
One in four London children are behind with their routine vaccinations, which are vital to protect against serious illnesses and disease.
The NHS is contacting parents and carers of primary school children who may have missed a vaccination. These are offered free of charge at school or at a GP’s surgery.
For children aged 1-4 (not yet at school), please check their Red Book or contact a GP surgery to ensure they are up to date, and get the necessary vaccinations if not.
All parents and carers can contact their GP surgery at any time to get their children up to date with their vaccinations.
Falling vaccination rates put more children at risk
London has much lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other parts of England regions. Just 74.1% and 73.8% of children have had their full schedule of MMR and polio jabs respectively by the age of five. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), needed to eliminate these diseases.
Why do children need protection against Measles, Mumps and Rubella?
Measles cases are rising in London. The MMR vaccine is a safe and effective combined vaccine which protects against these three conditions, which can become very serious, and are highly infectious, so can easily spread between unvaccinated people.
Getting vaccinated is important, as these conditions can also lead to serious problems including meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy.
Click through to find out why these are a threat to children’s health now and in the future:
What vaccination will they children get if they are behind with MMR protection?
Two doses of MMR vaccines are usually given to children at one year’s old, and then in most around three years and four months’ old, although this is often at around 18 months in London boroughs. Your children will be given the appropriate dose to help them catch up with their protection depending on which vaccination they have missed. The MMR vaccine is given via a single injection (each dose) into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm.
Protection against measles, mumps and rubella starts to develop around two weeks after having the MMR vaccine.
Are MMR vaccinations safe?
The MMR vaccine is very effective. After 2 doses:
around 99% of people will be protected against measles and rubella
around 88% of people will be protected against mumps
The MMR vaccine is very safe. Most side effects are mild and do not last long, such as:
the area where the needle goes in looking red, swollen and feeling sore for 2 to 3 days
around 7 to 11 days after the injection, babies or young children may feel a bit unwell or develop a high temperature for about 2 or 3 days
Some children might also cry and be upset immediately after the injection. This is normal and they should feel better after a cuddle.
It’s important to remember that the possible complications of infectious conditions, such as measles, mumps and rubella, are much more serious.
Why do children need protection against polio?
Polio is a serious infection which is thankfully now very rare because of the vaccination programme across the world. There have been no confirmed cases of paralysis due to polio caught in the UK since 1984.
Although some poliovirus was found in sewage samples in London in 2022, the risk of getting it remains extremely low.
However, the chance of getting ill from polio is higher if you are not fully vaccinated, so it’s important to make sure children, are up to date with your vaccines. People who do get polio can sometimes because very ill and it can cause life threatening conditions and permanent disability.
Most people who get polio do not have symptoms. Some people get mild, flu-like symptoms, which usually last up to ten days such as:
a high temperature
extreme tiredness (fatigue)
being sick (vomiting)
a stiff neck
These symptoms usually last up to 10 days.
Rarely, polio can lead to more serious symptoms that affect the brain and nerves, such as weakness in your muscles (paralysis), usually in the legs. This can happen over hours or days. If the paralysis affects the muscles used for breathing, it can be life threatening.
Most people will recover, and movement will slowly come back over the next few weeks. Some people can be left with permanent disability.
If you would like to know more about vaccines including vaccines by age group, schedules,the research behind vaccines and how they help prevent illness and spread, go to the Oxford University Vaccines Knowledge Project – a source of independent, evidence-based information about vaccines and infectious diseases.
Failing to protect children increases risk to health
In recent years, fewer children have been getting vaccines they need to help prevent illness now and in future.
In 2021, nearly 15% of children in London didn’t have their 6-in-1 vaccination – which protects against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, disease caused by Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B.
In 2021 – 2022, only 79.9% of children in London had their vital MMR vaccine – protecting them against measles, mumps and rubella.
The numbers of children having both vaccines are well below the World Health Organisation target of 95%. That’s why we are encouraging parents and carers to find out more and ensure their children are up to date with their vaccine schedule – also known as their ‘Red Book’. (Source)
Please click the links below to find out more.
The ‘6-in-1’ vaccine is one of the first vaccines your baby will have.
It’s given as one single injection to protect your baby against six serious childhood conditions:
Polio is a serious infection that’s now very rare because of the vaccination programme. It’s only found in a few countries and the chance of getting it in the UK is extremely low.
Polio in the UK
There have been no confirmed cases of paralysis due to polio caught in the UK since 1984.
Although some poliovirus has been found in sewage from London recently, the risk of getting it remains extremely low. In 2022 children in London were offered a top up polio booster vaccine to help boost against possible infection after this discovery.
The chance of getting ill from polio is higher if you are not fully vaccinated, so it’s important to make sure you, and your child, are up to date with your vaccines. Babies will normally have the polio vaccine as part of the 6-in-1 set of vaccines.
Flu is caused by the influenza virus. It can be a very unpleasant illness for children. It can also lead to serious problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia.
Children can catch and spread flu easily. Vaccinating them also protects others who are vulnerable to flu, such as babies and older people. The children’s flu vaccine can also help protect against becoming ill from Strep A infections.
Strep A, also known as Group A Strep, strep, and strep throat, is a common bacteria called group a streptococcus (GAS). Lots of us carry it in our throats and on our skin and it doesn’t always result in illness. However, Strep A does cause a number of infections, some mild and some more serious.
Milder infections caused by Strep A include scarlet fever, impetigo, cellulitis, tonsillitis and pharyngitis (a sore throat).
Read more detailed information about Strep A, scarlet fever and other, related symptoms including advice on when to worry about coughs, colds, earache and sore throats in the ‘When should I worry’ booklet.
Girls and boys aged 12 to 13 years (born after 1 September 2006) are offered the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as part of the NHS vaccination programme.
The HPV vaccine helps protect against cancers caused by HPV, including:
Please note that in most London Boroughs, the first dose of MMR vaccine is normally given when your child is 12 months old, and the second when children are aged 18 months.
Frequently asked questions
How do I know if my child is up to date with vaccines they need? Or I don't know if my child has had the vaccines they should have – how can I find out?
You can contact your GP surgery to check if your child is up to date with their vaccinations. For children and babies, you can also check their personal child health record (the ‘Red Book’). If your child is not registered with a GP, you can still arrange a vaccination.
My child isn’t registered with a GP – how do I get them vaccinated?
If your child is not registered with a GP, you can still arrange a vaccination. Anyone in England can register with a GP surgery. It’s free to register. You do not need any proof of address or immigration status, ID or an NHS number.
You can either register your child online or call or email the GP surgery and ask to be registered as a patient. Once you are registered the NHS will let you know when you can book your polio appointment. There is also information on large-scale vaccination centres in south east London where you can book an appointments in the ‘Where do I get my child’s vaccine?’ section above.