Maintaining immunisation programmes is a key priority to protect public health from preventable infections. The Chief Medical Officer wrote to all general practitioners and health boards in March to emphasise the importance of continuing childhood immunisation programmes during the response to COVID-19 to protect public health not only during the outbreak but in the future.
Provisional data from Public Health Wales indicates that at June 2020 uptake of routine childhood immunisations in infants was stable. Uptake rates for the first dose of ‘6 in 1’ vaccine at 4 months, the first dose of MMR vaccine at 13 months and the ‘4 in 1’ vaccine at three years four months of age remained within the range recorded in the months prior to March 2020. Reports confirm that the enhanced safety measures put in place have maintained public trust and parents and carers have continued to bring their children to immunisation appointments. Full data for the period April to June 2020 will be published by Public Health Wales in due course.
Certain other immunisation programmes were suspended temporarily to allow available NHS resources to be directed to the effort to combat COVID-19. These included school age programmes such as teenage boosters and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines. As schools re-open, ‘catch up’’ sessions are being arranged for those who have missed out. Where possible, some sessions are taking place before the end of the summer term but most will be re-scheduled from September.
Shingles vaccination for those aged 70 to 79 was temporarily suspended in March but has been re-instated since early June. High risk adults have continued to be offered pneumococcal vaccination and more routine vaccination is now possible.
I encourage everyone who receives an immunisation invitation to attend when contacted. This includes parents and carers of infants and pre-school children, pregnant women, school age children and at risk adults. Social distancing measures are in place to protect people attending for immunisations and the nursing staff administering the vaccines. Appropriate infection control procedures are being followed. Attending for appointments will continue to be important into the autumn when the seasonal flu vaccination campaign begins. Everyone who is eligible for a NHS flu vaccine should be confident about having it to protect themselves and those around them.
I recognise that maintaining high uptake of immunisations in Wales would not be possible without the ongoing support of those involved in the delivery of these programmes. I acknowledge the extraordinary work to date involved in responding to the challenges of working in new ways to protect public health in this crucial area during the global outbreak.
The Welsh Government will monitor uptake of all national immunisation programmes closely with key NHS stakeholders to encourage uptake and enable people to continue to have immunisations safely.