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How Can We Increase Uptake Of Childhood Immunisations in the UK?

24 May 2023

Vaccination coverage for young children fell last year in 13 out of 14 routine programmes across the UK, according to the British Medical Journal  (BMJ).[1]

Data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) backs this up, showing a rise in cases of measles which coincides with a falling number of children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.* [2]

HPV vaccine coverage also fell by 7% in Yr. 8 girls from 2021 to 2022, which rightly raises concerns due to the program’s success at reducing rates of harmful infections and cervical cancer.

Why are rates falling?

Scientists have recently highlighted how the pandemic has negatively impacted vaccination coverage, causing the largest backslide in global childhood vaccinations in thirty years.

Supply chain disruptions and a halt on routine healthcare have all been attributed as causes for falling rates. That might well be the case, but it’s not the whole story.

In the past decade, we have seen a decline in the uptake of almost all routine vaccinations for children in England. In fact, currently, no childhood vaccinations meet the 95% target set by the World Health Organization.

Is parental complacency a cause? The general risk of diseases such as measles or rubella is considered low (because of the public health success of their near elimination) so, unless it’s readily available and easy to access, are caregivers failing to see the value when weighing it up with cost of getting it done in terms of fuel for travel or time off work?

Trust is most certainly a factor. Vaccine misinformation started well before the pandemic, most notably with the now discredited study by Andrew Wakefield linking MMR vaccination to autism. The published findings have subsequently been retracted; however, the impact on parental trust in vaccinations has been massive.

What can be done to increase uptake?

UKHSA is urging parents and guardians to ensure their children are up to date with all their routine childhood immunisations, but we’re struggling to find the channels they’re using to convey this message. Given the severity of the potential fall out, it all seems a little quiet.

What, then, are the wider community able to do to help turn the dial and what do we need to be aware of?

Currently much of the literature is focussed on trying to protect from serious illness and death. Many of us turn to avoidance when a subject feel too terrible to contemplate, so is a possible solution centred around lighter messaging which brings the impact of not being vaccinated closer to home rather than focussing on worst-case scenario?

Secondly, addressing groups such as ‘parents’ and ‘guardians’ as a collective, without considering social disparities, regional splits and other nuances means we are likely to be missing the mark when it comes to our advertising. We need to ensure the message is as compelling as possible. Humans are complex, as are our needs and motivations, so the messaging must bear that in mind.

We also need to make sure we’re addressing our audience where it matters most. Where can we find the highest number of parents/guardians and what environments are most likely to foster higher levels of engagement and retention of said message. In a world where we are bombarded with screens and adverts, context is king.

One thing seems certain. If global healthcare systems do not act quickly, surely, we put ourselves at risk of future outbreaks of infectious diseases that the vaccination programs were set up to prevent.

If you’d like to speak to the team at IDS to see how we can help you get in front of the right audience at the right time, please drop us an email on or fill in our enquiry form on the website.

*Uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in children aged 2 years in England is 89% and uptake of 2 MMR doses in children aged 5 years is 85%. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.


[1] NHS Digital. Childhood vaccination coverage statistics—England, 2021-22. 29 September 2022.



Dean Gahagan Dean has spent almost a decade working in healthcare advertising specialising in OOH formats.