NHS England on Tuesday urged parents to ensure their children were vaccinated to prevent the potentially “tragic consequences” of a polio or measles infection.
London has significantly lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other regions, with just 74.1 per cent of children having received their full schedule of MMR and polio jabs respectively by the age of five.
This is well below the 95 per cent target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The latest phase of the vaccine rollout will target the most vulnerable children – defined as those who are either unvaccinated or who have missed routine vaccinations.
Parents of primary school aged children who may have missed a vaccine will be contacted by the NHS through their school age service (SAIS) provider.
A registered health professional will then talk to them through the local offer, explain the consent process and arrange an appointment.
Traces of the polio virus were found in sewage samples in northeast London last year.
In August 2022, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the UK had a “circulating” form of polio that, on rare occasions, can cause serious illness such as paralysis in people who are not fully vaccinated.
Around 345,000 children aged one to nine received a polio booster dose during phase one of the catch-up programme last year, NHS England said.
However, there are still children who are not fully up to date with their vaccinations and therefore at risk of catching polio.
Dr Anita Bell, lead consultant for vaccine-preventable diseases at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) London, told the Standard last week that low uptake of the MMR vaccine among children is giving measles the chance to gain a “foothold” in London.
Chief nurse for the NHS in London Jane Clegg said: “London has historically had lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other regions and this was made worse by the pandemic.
“We all want to keep children safe and protected from serious illness, which is why we’re doing everything we can to support parents across London to ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations, especially polio and MMR. These vaccines will increase children’s protection and have been safely given to millions of children.”
Regional Deputy Director for UKHSA London, Dr Yvonne Young said: “Poliovirus has the potential to spread where vaccine uptake is low and there is currently a very real risk of this for some of our communities in London.
“Measles is also currently circulating in London. Both infections are entirely preventable and the vaccines give excellent protection.”
She added: “Polio and measles can have tragic consequences if you are not vaccinated and can lead to serious long term health problems. Nobody wants this for their child so if anyone in your family is not fully vaccinated, it’s important to catch up as soon as possible.”
Parents can also check their child’s red book and contact their GP to book an appointment for any missed vaccinations.
Large measles outbreaks are currently underway in multiple countries in South Asia and Africa.
Anyone with measles symptoms is advised to stay at home and phone their GP or NHS 111 for advice, before visiting the surgery or A&E, to prevent the illness from spreading further.