In 2020, the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdown control measures threatened to disrupt routine childhood immunisation programmes with early reports suggesting uptake would fall. In response, public health bodies in Scotland and England collected national data for childhood immunisations on a weekly or monthly basis to allow for rapid analysis of trends. The aim of this study was to use these data to assess the impact of different phases of the pandemic on infant and preschool immunisation uptake rates.
Methods and findings
We conducted an observational study using routinely collected data for the year prior to the pandemic (2019) and immediately before (22 January to March 2020), during (23 March to 26 July), and after (27 July to 4 October) the first UK “lockdown”. Data were obtained for Scotland from the Public Health Scotland “COVID19 wider impacts on the health care system” dashboard and for England from ImmForm.
Five vaccinations delivered at different ages were evaluated; 3 doses of “6-in-1” diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b, and hepatitis B vaccine (DTaP/IPV/Hib/HepB) and 2 doses of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This represented 439,754 invitations to be vaccinated in Scotland and 4.1 million for England. Uptake during the 2020 periods was compared to the previous year (2019) using binary logistic regression analysis. For Scotland, uptake within 4 weeks of a child becoming eligible by age was analysed along with geographical region and indices of deprivation. For Scotland and England, we assessed whether immunisations were up-to-date at approximately 6 months (all doses 6-in-1) and 16 to 18 months (first MMR) of age.
We found that uptake within 4 weeks of eligibility in Scotland for all the 5 vaccines was higher during lockdown than in 2019. Differences ranged from 1.3% for first dose 6-in-1 vaccine (95.3 versus 94%, odds ratio [OR] compared to 2019 1.28, 95% confidence intervals [CIs] 1.18 to 1.39) to 14.3% for second MMR dose (66.1 versus 51.8%, OR compared to 2019 1.8, 95% CI 1.74 to 1.87). Significant increases in uptake were seen across all deprivation levels.
In England, fewer children due to receive their immunisations during the lockdown period were up to date at 6 months (6-in-1) or 18 months (first dose MMR). The fall in percentage uptake ranged from 0.5% for first 6-in-1 (95.8 versus 96.3%, OR compared to 2019 0.89, 95% CI 0.86– to 0.91) to 2.1% for third 6-in-1 (86.6 versus 88.7%, OR compared to 2019 0.82, 95% CI 0.81 to 0.83).
The use of routinely collected data used in this study was a limiting factor as detailed information on potential confounding factors were not available and we were unable to eliminate the possibility of seasonal trends in immunisation uptake.
In this study, we observed that the national lockdown in Scotland was associated with an increase in timely childhood immunisation uptake; however, in England, uptake fell slightly. Reasons for the improved uptake in Scotland may include active measures taken to promote immunisation at local and national levels during this period and should be explored further. Promoting immunisation uptake and addressing potential vaccine hesitancy is particularly important given the ongoing pandemic and COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.