The uptake of the MMR and ‘6-in-1’ vaccines among Scottish pre-school children increased significantly during the first COVID-19 lockdown in spring 2020 compared with the year before, according to new research published by Public Health Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.

The findings, published today in the journal PLOS Medicine, further show that the number of children who received their pre-school vaccines on time (within four weeks of becoming eligible) also increased dramatically during the lockdown period.

The study was carried out following initial concerns from the World Health Organisation that limited access to health services at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic would lead to a fall in childhood vaccination rates.

The team found a 14.3 per cent increase in children receiving the second dose of the MMR vaccine on time during the first lockdown in Scotland. Furthermore, timely uptake of the third jab of the ‘6-in-1’ vaccine, which requires three doses to protect against many childhood diseases including whooping cough, increased by 9.1 per cent.

The overall increase equates to an additional 7,508 pre-school vaccinations being delivered on time during the lockdown compared to what was expected based on 2019 levels.

The researchers note that due to the observational nature of the research, it is not possible to definitively explain why these changes happened, however, several factors linked may be linked.

These include easier access to vaccination centres or mobile centres, and direct communications with families to remind them of their upcoming vaccination appointment.

Dr Rachael Wood, Consultant in Public Health Medicine with Public Health Scotland, said:

“By immunising young children at the right time, we can help to protect them against a range of serious diseases. During the first lockdown, there were concerns that disruption to health services in the wake of COVID-19 could affect the delivery of vaccines to young children.

“Thankfully, our study has shown that during lockdown the numbers of pre-school children receiving timely immunisations actually increased significantly in Scotland, with over 7,000 more pre-school vaccines given on time during lockdown compared to what would have been expected. It is important that we understand the reasons for this improvement and that this progress is continued.

“Parents and carers can find out more about the immunisations available to their children by visiting the nhsinform.scot website or by speaking to their Health Visitor or GP.”

This analysis was carried out as part of the EAVE II study, which uses anonymised linked patient data to track the effect of the pandemic on the healthcare system in Scotland.

More information on childhood immunisations in Scotland can be found on the NHS Inform website here.

The full study can be found on the PLOS Medicine website here.

Last updated: 04 March 2022