Warning shot to parents over baby jabs

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PARENTS are putting their children at risk by not getting them immunised quickly enough against potentially deadly diseases.

Shock new figures reveal Hartlepool lags behind the rest of the country when it comes to children being immunised by their first and second birthdays.

Although the vast majority are vaccinated, health chiefs say there are still hundreds of children needlessly susceptible to diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria and tetanus.

Mayor Stuart Drummond described the figures as “shocking” and said the new shadow health and well-being board, which brings together the NHS, local authority and health watchdogs, can tackle the problem.

The percentage of youngsters in 2010-11 having their MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jabs by their second birthday was just 85.4 per cent, or 980 out of 1,148 eligible.

That is way down on the North-East average of 91.4 per cent, 10 per cent lower than North Tyneside, while the national average was 89.1 per cent.

Health chiefs say that is the lowest uptake in the region and the numbers actually fell by 1.7 per cent compared to 2009-10.

In 2010-11, 168 children did not receive their MMR vaccination by their second birthday with around 150 not receiving their second dose by their fifth birthday.

The number of children receiving their Meningitis C jabs is also lower in Hartlepool than the North-East and national average.

Meanwhile, the percentage of children immunised by their first birthday for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, Hib and Pertussis is 92.4 per cent, or 1,083 out of the 1,172 eligible.

That makes Hartlepool the second worst area in the North-East.

The number being immunised for the same diseases by their second birthday is 95.2 per cent, or 1,093 out of 1,148, which is again lower than the North-East and national average.

The number of Hartlepool youngsters immunised by their fifth birthday does improve but it is the amount of those unvaccinated before the age of two that is causing concern.

Health chiefs say the reasons include:

l That the childhood vaccination programme is a victim of it own success in that people no longer see the devastating consequences of vaccine preventable diseases.

l Potential deadly diseases such as measles can be perceived by those with no previous experience as a mild rash.

l Myths around safety of vaccine programmes.

l Available services might not be fully accessible.

Mayor Drummond, chair of the board, said: “The figures for immunisation rates in Hartlepool are nothing short of shocking.

“The lives of children are being put at risk if they don’t get the correct immunisations.

“It is an area where the new health and well-being board can make a difference, and I’m pleased that all partners have committed to changing this around quickly.”

Responsibility for public health and health services is being transferred from primary care trusts to local authorities through the new boards, which will now produce a draft strategy to tackle the issue.

Julia Waller, of the Health Protection Agency, said those most at risk of not being immunised were looked after children, those with physical or learning difficulties and those with teenage or lone parents.

During the presentation she referred back to the measles outbreak in 2009, when there were 79 confirmed cases in the Teesside area, with 63 in Hartlepool.

Mrs Waller added: “We do have good immunisation levels in the North-East, but unfortunately Hartlepool is not the best.”

Louise Wallace, assistant director of health improvement at NHS Hartlepool, said: “In a year’s time we can change this.

“It is around communication, schools and different agencies refocusing funding.”

Speaking afterwards she said: “Partners of the Board who include NHS Tees, Hartlepool Borough Council, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, Local GPs and the Local Involvement Network are all committed to working together to support and encourage parents to take up the opportunity for their children to be vaccinated.”Childhood vaccines are provided free of charge. Parents should contact their local GP to arrange an appointment.

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