Analysis of the latest childhood vaccination coverage statistics published by the NHS shows 112 councils have vaccination rates below the 95% benchmark set by WHO which aims to control virus outbreaks.
The analysis comes after the poliovirus was identified by the UK Health Security Agency in sewage samples collected from the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London.
Health experts are now urging parents, especially those in London, to get their children vaccinated.
Vaccination rates in the capital remain the lowest in the UK with 86.7% of children vaccinated against polio before their first birthday during the 2020-21 period. The North West was the second worst performing region with 91.7% vaccinated. The North East is the only English region to be above the WHO target, having vaccinated 95.5% of children.
Overall England’s vaccination rate is at 92.0%.
Elsewhere in the UK, Northern Ireland was also below target with 94.5% of children vaccinated before their first birthday.
However, Scotland and Wales both achieved the goal with vaccination rates hitting 96.5% and 95.6% respectively.
The UK vaccination rate as a whole is at 92.6% – 2.4 percentage points lower than the World Health Organisation target of 95%.
The UK’s vaccination rate has been below target since 2012-13 when it peaked at 95.1%.
The vaccine comes in a ‘six in one’ dose which offers protection against polio as well as other diseases such as hepatitis B and tetanus.
A primary course is given over the first few months of a child’s life with boosters required three years after completion of the primary course.
Councils with the lowest vaccination rates
London councils have the lowest vaccination rates in England with the 11 worst performing councils all located in the city.
Hackney and the City of London has the lowest vaccination rates in England with 67.8% of children vaccinated for polio before their first birthday.
Camden had the second lowest vaccination rate with 79.2% of under ones jabbed, followed by Haringey with 81.6%.
South Tyneside has the highest vaccination rate in England with 98.5% covered, followed by Sunderland with 98.2% vaccinated and North Tyneside with 97.5% vaccinated.
Only three councils in Scotland were found to be below the WHO target, according to Public Health Scotland figures.
The Shetland Islands have the lowest vaccination rates in the country with 91.3% of children jabbed before their first birthday during the 2021 period, followed by Na h-Eileanan Siar with 91.9% and Argyll and Bute with 93.2%.
However, Public Health Scotland notes that take-up rates for Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Na h-Eileanan Siar are prone to fluctuation due to the small number of children in the cohorts.
NHS Orkney also had data recording issues which resulted in the uptake rates at 12 months of age being under-reported.
‘Individuals may remain at risk’
Although the risk to public health overall is low, health experts are encouraging parents to get their children vaccinated.
The UK Health Security Agency said that the most likely scenario for the new polio cases was that a vaccinated person entered the country before February 2022 from a country where an oral polio vaccine has been used for supplementary immunisation campaigns.This is recognised as a ‘vaccine-derived poliovirus’.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “Vaccine-derived poliovirus has the potential to spread, particularly in communities where vaccine uptake is lower.
“On rare occasions it can cause paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated so if you or your child are not up to date with your polio vaccinations it’s important you contact your GP to catch up or if unsure check your Red Book. Most of the UK population will be protected from vaccination in childhood, but in some communities with low vaccine coverage, individuals may remain at risk.”
Jane Clegg, chief nurse for the NHS in London, added: “The majority of Londoners are fully protected against polio and won’t need to take any further action, but the NHS will begin reaching out to parents of children aged under 5 in London who are not up to date with their polio vaccinations to invite them to get protected.
“Meanwhile, parents can also check their child’s vaccination status in their Red Book and people should contact their GP surgery to book a vaccination, should they or their child not be fully up to date.”