Polio vaccine: Liverpool regions fail to hit child vaccination rate target as virus found in UK wastewater

Health officials are urging parents to check if their child is vaccinated as inoculation rates fell during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All six local authorities in the Liverpool City Region have not hit polio vaccination targets set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Analysis of the latest childhood vaccination coverage statistics published by the NHS shows Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens and Wirral 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 (UKHSA) in sewage samples collected from the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works in London.

In Liverpool 88% of children were vaccinated against polio and other diseases before their 1st birthday. Image: Tobias Arhelger - stock.adobe

The UKHSA say it is likely there has been some spread between closely-linked people and are now investigating to establish if the virus is spreading to others in the community.

The poliovirus has not been detected outside London, but Liverpool health experts are urging parents to check children are vaccinated as inoculation rates have fallen in the city and surrounding areas following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Liverpool Council cabinet member for Health and Social Care, Cllr Frazer Lake said: “Most people in Liverpool are protected against polio from vaccination in childhood, but some children may have missed out on getting vaccinated due to the pandemic.

“I urge people to check that their families are up to date with all the vaccinations they need, to protect them from serious diseases.”

Polio vaccination rates in Liverpool City Region

Vaccination rates in London are 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.

Overall, England’s vaccination rate is at 92.0%.

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Within the Liverpool City Region, Knowsley has the lowest rate of children vaccinated by their first birthday, at 86.4%. The figures for the 2020-21 period rank the borough 13th worst in England and the second worst in the North West.

Liverpool has a rate of 88% as the third least vaccinated area in the North West, and 26th worst in England. Liverpool council say provisional figures for 2021-22 show a further decline to around 85%.

St Helens also had a rate well below the 95% benchmark set by the WHO, at 89.4%.

Sefton (90.4%) and Halton (91.9%) performed better but still had vaccination rates below the England average of 92%.

Wirral (94.2%) was the only LCR borough that had a rate above the national average, but still below the WHO threshold of 95%.

Polio vaccination advice

The UK was declared polio-free in 2003 due to high levels of vaccine coverage, however in the last few years, the uptake of childhood immunisations including polio-containing vaccines has fallen.

Parents are being urged to check their Red Book to check that their young children are up to date with their polio vaccinations. They should contact their GP surgery to book a vaccination, if they aren’t fully up to date.

Routine vaccinations give children the best protection from infectious diseases like polio and measles. Protection from polio is included in the 6-in-1 vaccine which is given to babies when they’re 8, 12 and 16 weeks old. A booster of a polio containing vaccine is also given before children start school and as part of their teenage booster when they are 14.

Liverpool Council says the uptake of the baby immunisations has always been very high in the region, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake of the routine 6-in-1 vaccine for babies fell to 88% in 2020/21, down 7% from 2017/18.

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Director of Public Health for Liverpool, Professor Matthew Ashton said: “Vaccination is the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children against serious infections. Although polio has not been detected in sewage outside of London, it is possible for infectious diseases to spread quickly if people are unvaccinated.

“If your child has not had the vaccines they need, please contact your local GP practice to book an appointment – it’s never too late to catch up to protect your children from these potentially serious illnesses.

“Vaccines are safe and highly effective. You can also ask your health visitor if you have any questions about vaccines.”