Marketing campaign launches to drive up childhood vaccinations

UKHSA Chief Executive Professor Dame Jenny Harries visits Manchester and Liverpool to launch campaign as measles cases continue to rise

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is launching a new multi-media marketing campaign across England to remind parents and carers of the risk of their children missing out on protection against serious diseases that are re-emerging in the country – with an urgent call to action to catch up on missed vaccinations.

The campaign goes live on 4 March with a powerful video advert told from the perspective of children and in their voices. “Our generation’s risk of illnesses like measles and whooping cough is rising” they tell their parents and carers looking straight into camera - “If we’re not vaccinated, we’re not protected.”

The campaign theme and materials, based on insight and feedback from parents in the North West, were developed by UKHSA in partnership with DHSC Marketing, Liverpool City Council, NHS England, NHS North West and NHS Greater Manchester.

The campaign comes as the latest weekly update today on measles cases in England shows there have been another 69 cases in the past week, bringing the total number of laboratory confirmed measles cases reported since 1 October 2023 to 650.

In the 4 weeks since 29 January 2024, there have been 183 newly confirmed cases, with the highest number of cases reported from the West Midlands 43% (79/183). During this period all regions have had confirmed cases, 19% of cases have been (34/183) in the North West, 14% (26/183) in London, 10% (18/183) in the East Midlands and 8% (15/183) in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Uptake levels of childhood vaccines offered through the routine NHS vaccination programme in England have been falling over the past decade across all vaccines, including whooping cough, measles, mumps and rubella, polio, meningitis and diphtheria - with England no longer having the levels of population immunity recommended by the World Health Organization that is needed to prevent outbreaks. Crucially, lower vaccine uptake within communities is directly linked to wider health inequalities.

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of UKHSA, said:

"We need an urgent reversal of the decline in the uptake of childhood vaccinations to protect our communities. Through this campaign we are particularly appealing to parents to check their children’s vaccination status and book appointments if their children have missed any immunisations. The ongoing measles outbreak we are seeing is a reminder of the very present threat.

"While the majority of the country is protected, there are still high numbers of children in some areas that continue to be unprotected from preventable diseases. It is not just their own health that can suffer, but other unvaccinated people around them such as school friends, family and those in their community could also experience serious infections.

"Unless uptake improves we will start to see the diseases that these vaccines protect against re-emerging and causing more serious illness."

Health Minister Maria Caulfield said:

"Parents want what is best for their children – and that includes the vital protection that vaccines provide from preventable diseases.

"This campaign is an important step to engage local communities and highlight the importance of immunisation, as diseases like measles are not illnesses of the past. We want to make sure parents know how and where they can get essential jabs for their children as quickly as possible.

"I want to encourage parents to get their children immunised, particularly if they are behind on their immunisation schedule. Please check your children’s vaccination record and book in an appointment to get the jabs they need."

To counter this decline, UKHSA is co-ordinating its national marketing campaign with an NHS operational MMR catch up campaign. Areas with low uptake will be a focus for support and parents of children aged from six to 11 years will be contacted directly and urged to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice for any missed MMR vaccines.

In addition to the TV advert, the campaign will be seen across a range of channels and formats including radio advertising, digital display, online and on social media. Additional advertising will be seen in the West Midlands, North West and London where we know there are larger pockets of low uptake. The campaign will be supported by a number of key stakeholders, including local authorities and NHS organisations.

The World Health Organization recently repeated their warning on the growing measles threat due to sub-optimal vaccination rates well below the 95% target, highlighting that more than half the world faces high measles risk. This includes Europe, where it warns of the high probability of importation from areas experiencing high circulation and the fact that the seasonal peak of the virus could be seen in the coming months.

UKHSA Chief Executive, Professor Dame Jenny Harries, will be in the North West region today to launch the campaign – visiting sites in Manchester and Liverpool. Parts of the region have some of the lowest uptake rates in the country for some childhood vaccines and local health partners have helped to develop the campaign. She will visit a GP vaccination clinic in Salford to see their on-going work to catch up children who have missed out on MMR vaccines; as well as meeting local stakeholders, including attending a learning event in Liverpool, organised by Liverpool City Council and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, to hear about the work of the Health Equity Liverpool Project. The project brings together healthcare workers and community representatives to find solutions to local health issues and they will be sharing their recent work on ways to increase immunisation in the city.

Steve Russell, National Director for Vaccinations and Screening at NHS England, said: 

"The MMR vaccination offers the best protection against becoming seriously unwell, and while an increase in measles cases is a global issue, the NHS in England is doing all it can to ensure people have the best possible protection, which is why we have expanded our MMR catch up campaign even further in recent weeks and have been contacting hundreds of thousands of families, urging them to come forward.

"Two doses are needed to get maximum protection, so as well as sending reminders to parents and guardians of children up to five who have yet to get full protection, the NHS has been asking all parents and guardians of children aged six to 11 who have missed one or more doses of the MMR vaccine to book a catch up at their GP practice, or through MMR pop-ups in schools and other convenient places.

"Measles is a serious illness, and in some cases can lead to having to be admitted to hospital for treatment, so the message is clear: if you or your young ones aren’t vaccinated, you aren’t protected, and it is vital you come forward as soon as possible for the MMR jab."

Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu, Regional Director of Commissioning for NHS England North West, said:

"Routine vaccinations have been given to generations of children and are proven to be effective at preventing serious childhood illnesses.

"They also protect those who are too young to be vaccinated and people who are vulnerable such as those who are immunocompromised, who benefit from the ‘herd immunity’ that happens when the majority of the population are vaccinated.

"That’s why we’ve been so concerned to see parts of the North West experiencing low vaccination rates that are below the recommended levels.

"With the health of some children at risk because of falling vaccination rates, we really hope this campaign will help to remind parents about the important role childhood vaccines play and encourage them to bring their children forward when they are invited."

UK Health Security Agency