We spoke to Dr Richard Preece, Medical Director and Executive Lead for Quality at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, about the importance of childhood vaccinations and the difference they can make to your health
Q. Why is it important to have the MMR vaccine?
“Immunisation programmes are so effective that we forget how important they are. People might think illnesses like measles or mumps are harmless childhood conditions but they can actually be much more serious – more people died of measles across Europe last year than Ebola. Whilst measles and rubella (German measles) aren’t native to the UK they are common abroad so people can pick them up whilst on holiday abroad or catch them from someone who’s recently returned from a trip.
“Measles can lead to encephalitis (when your brain becomes inflamed) which in turn can lead to a permanent brain injury. I had measles as a child in 1965; in that year there were around 500,000 cases and 115 people died. I was fortunate to recover but I know someone who had measles as a child and has been left with a disability and in need of care – childhood illness can be life-changing and life-limiting which is why we vaccinate.
“As well rubella poses a huge risk for pregnant women, it’s life-threatening and can cause congenital (present from birth) problems which no one wants for their unborn child. Immunisation matters, it’s one of the best things you can do for your family – it immunises them for life and can even protect your future grandchildren.”
Q. What are the wider benefits of immunisation?
“As well as protecting your family vaccinations protect other people around your child, especially children who may not be able to have the vaccine for health and reasons and older, and possibly frail, relatives who may not have received childhood vaccinations. If everybody who can be immunised is, it has wider benefits for families and communities.”
Q. What about other vaccines?
“Vaccines are there for every stage of your life. The flu vaccine for young children is great for preventing the spread of flu – young children are super spreaders and can pass on germs like wildfire. Making sure they have a flu vaccine each autumn protects their wellbeing and benefits others.
“The HPV vaccine for teenage girls protects against cancer which is fantastic. In years to come we will have a generation of women whose risk of cervical cancer has been massively reduced. It’s of great benefit for women, and for their male partners if they choose to have one. It allows adolescents to protect themselves against cancer and improve their future health which is a reassuring feeling for any parent.
“When young people set off to university the meningitis ACWY vaccine can keep them safe. Meningitis can be extremely serious; if you get it the clock is ticking if you’re to survive. With some many people in close quarters at university it can be easily spread, especially here in Greater Manchester where we have the largest student population in Europe.
Q. What work is being done for Greater Manchester to improve immunisation rates?
“We are doing a lot of work in Greater Manchester to ensure our population are immunised and kept safe from dangerous diseases. We had a fantastic campaign last winter around the flu nasal spray for children. The results were exceptional with the highest uptake in the country.
“Even with good uptake we want every child to be immunised and we need to ensure children from outside the area are caught by catch up campaigns. Immunisations tie in with the wider focus, both by the Partnership and by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, on children being school ready. We want children who go to school to have the best health and development but illness disrupts this and holds them back – immunisation gives them the best chance.
“We’re now looking at other creative immunisation campaigns for the future that will improve uptake and do things differently, both improving things in our region and influencing national work.”