Over a quarter of babies in the Hackney and the City of London health authority area have not had their primary vaccinations, giving it the lowest rate in the country, new figures show.
In 2018/2019, 26.85 per cent of children under 12-months old, roughly 1,169 babies, did not receive their DTaP/IPV/HIB vaccine, according to data released by Public Health England.
During the same period, national coverage also dropped; 7.9 per cent of children were not vaccinated, the highest rate for 10 years.
The jabs protect against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, Pertussis and Haemophilus Influenza Type B, and are usually given to babies at eight, twelve and sixteen weeks of age. Those without immunisation are prone to serious diseases from birth.
In Hackney, the number of children without the vaccine has grown rapidly over the last six years, consistently scoring above the national average.
Elsewhere, uptake of the vaccination in Croydon has decreased by 5.7 per cent since 2013/2014, with rates now below the London average. Coverage in Tower Hamlets remains significantly higher than most local authorities in the region, although there has been similar 5 per cent decrease over the same period.
These latest statistics for Hackney follow a sustained outbreak of Measles earlier this year; there were over 450 confirmed cases of the virus in the borough over a nine-month period.
Rhiannon England, clinical lead for children and young people at NHS City and Hackney Clinical Commissioning Group, told Eastlondonlines: “We are acutely aware of the situation […] in relation to our poor vaccination coverage, and have been working hard on finding solutions that are sustainable”.
Asked what can be done to remedy the situation, England said: “The response is multi-disciplinary and cannot be fixed quickly, so we are working closely with our public health teams at local authorities, GP practices, schools and other related organisations in our area”.
The poor uptake of vaccinations in Hackney has been linked to the borough’s strict Orthodox Jewish Charedi community, where historically, vaccinations rates are low. Jewish communities in Stamford Hill were particularly affected by an outbreak of measles in 2018.
Dr Heidi Larson, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the Evening Standard in September: “The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex. There are multiple types of ‘movements’ which are critical or questioning of vaccines.” Larson listed religion, ‘anti-big pharma’, and naturopathy as explanatory factors.
The European Region of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that 95% of children are immunised at a national level, meaning that the UK is currently failing to satisfy this objective.
Abbie Weaving, spokesperson for the British Medical Association, told Eastlondonlines: “It is extremely concerning to see a decrease in vaccination uptake given this is largely avoidable.”
Asked what factors account for low vaccine coverage, Weaving told Eastlondonlines: “Cuts to local authority services, which restrict their ability to deliver vaccination programmes, is the most significant barrier, [as well as] misinformation online”.
Charlotte Pearson, of Hackney’s As1 Parent’s Support Group, a community organisation that provides support for children with special educational needs and disabilities, told Eastlondonlines that a lot of parents are concerned by the relationship between vaccinations and special needs disabilities, listing social media as a root cause.
Asked whether she has noticed a decrease in vaccination rates, Pearson said: “Possibly, actually. I know a lot of parents are totally against it, and have noticed changes in their child’s behaviour [after vaccination]. My son was vaccinated and [has since] developed autism. When it came for my daughter to be vaccinated, I was really worried about going down that route again.” After deliberation, Pearson chose to vaccinate her daughter, although her hesitation exemplifies a growth in support for ‘anti-vaxx’ in Hackney
The ‘Wakefield Effect,’ named after Andrew Wakefield’s now discredited hypothesis linking the MMR vaccine with autism, has seen the inundation of social media with #anti-vaxx campaigns. Although the DTaP/IPV/HIB vaccine is distinct from the Measles, Mumps and Rubella jab, the wider impact of Wakefield’s study has led some parents to question the safety of the government’s vaccination schemes.
Earlier this year, the WHO labelled ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the ‘ten threats to global health in 2019’. A vaccines advisory group identified complacency, inconvenience and a lack of confidence as key reasons for parents choosing not to vaccinate their child.
A spokesman for Public Health England said that: “Parental confidence in the national immunisation programme is at an all-time high, and our work shows that parents trust the information they get on vaccination from their healthcare professionals. Some major reasons for the decline in coverage are therefore related to how people can best access and use local services.”