General practitioners and accident and emergency departments have experienced an unprecedented decline in the number of people seeking medical care in recent weeks, raising concerns that routine life-saving vaccinations against infections such as measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough fall on the way.
“We are very worried. There is no data yet because we have only been locked out for a month, but there are many anecdotes from nurses and others saying they have noticed a drop in usage of the vaccine, “said Helen Bedford, a professor of child health at UCL. Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and member of the health promotion committee of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Similar concerns have been confirmed in the United States, where health records released this week have shown that MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccines decreased by 50% in the week of April 5, vaccinations against diphtheria and whooping cough decreased by 42%.
“We fear that this will have a major impact on vaccinations here and also on the routine health checkups of new babies, because people are afraid to go to their general practice or fear that general practice is not open to business, and this is very clearly the case, “said Bedford.
Ministers and their expert advisers have repeatedly stressed the need for people to stay at home and save lives, but doctors fear that those who need vaccinations may miss or reschedule their appointments for fear of contracting viruses when they go out or increase the burden on healthcare workers.
In mid-March, many GPs closed their doors and switched to telephone consultations with only a small number of patients undergoing face-to-face exams. Doctors have since reported fewer people who come forward with common health problems and even potentially serious problems, such as symptoms of cancer and diabetes and poorly controlled heart disease.
“Childhood vaccinations and vaccinations for vulnerable seniors and people with multiple health conditions are top priorities for us,” said Professor Martin Marshall, President of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
“Children can get very sick and die from complications from common illnesses like measles that have not gone away. And vaccination is a fundamentally important part of preventing this from happening. We cannot allow the delay in vaccination to go on for a long time, otherwise we will really see a crisis, ”he added.
Doctors are particularly concerned that children are skipping the measles vaccination. Measles is about six times more contagious than Covid-19 and can be fatal in some cases. Last year, the UK lost its measles-free status due to a drop in MMR vaccination, which means parts of the country, like London, are already at high risk for epidemics.
“Measles is massively more contagious than Covid-19 and because it is so contagious, you only need a small drop in vaccine consumption to start seeing epidemics,” said Bedford. “The pandemic is not eliminating all normal diseases. They’re still around, but while we’re all at home, we are protected to some extent. It is when we reappear that there is a risk of problems. “
She urged new parents to ask their general practitioners to combine immunization appointments with routine mother and baby checks so they only need to go to the doctor’s office once .
Lockout has a disproportionate impact on the ability of the poorest people to go to appointments, while populations who already have low immunization rates are expected to become even more vulnerable as their adoption decreases.
“The important thing will be to find ways to catch up with the children. There will have to be a catch-up process and it could be quite complicated, ”added Bedford.
Dr Mary Ramsay, immunization manager at Public Health England, said: “The national immunization program is very successful in preventing serious and sometimes fatal diseases, such as pneumonia, meningitis, whooping cough, diphtheria and measles . During this time, it is important to maintain the best possible vaccine absorption to avoid a resurgence of these infections. “