Changes to the UK's childhood vaccination programme

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The UK's Department of Health have today announced the following changes to the childhood vaccination programme:

  • An inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) will be used instead of live oral polio vaccine (OPV) for all ages;
  • An acellular pertussis (aP) vaccine will be used instead of a whole cell pertussis (wP) vaccine.

From the end of September these vaccines will be given in the routine vaccination schedule in a combined vaccine along with Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Hib.

Professor Elizabeth Miller, Head of the Immunisation Department at the Health Protection Agency said, “These changes introduced by the Department of Health are as a result of the studies looking at responses to vaccines which we carry out at the Agency, and also our continued monitoring of the pattern of the diseases which these vaccines protect children against.

“Now that polio has been eradicated from large parts of the world, we no longer need a ‘live’ polio vaccine as the risk of contracting the disease is so low. This is an improvement as very rarely, the live vaccine has been associated with causing cases of vaccine associated polio – so for this reason children will be given a ‘killed’ version of the polio virus which also offers good protection against the disease.

“The change from using a whole cell pertussis vaccine to an acellular vaccine is because the acellular vaccine causes fewer reactions in older babies and children, such as temperature or swelling around the injection site - the acellular vaccine also contains a purified form of the pertussis bacteria which contains fewer proteins. The European Medicines Evaluation Agency has stated that there is no evidence of the amount of mercury in vaccines causing any problems. However as part of a general move to reduce mercury exposure from any avoidable sources they have recommended that where possible new vaccines should be made without the mercury preservative (thiomersal) – this new vaccine does not therefore contain thiomersal.

Dr Miller concluded, “There is no need for parents to be concerned about their children being vaccinated against five diseases at once – the number of vaccines being offered has not changed – only the way they are given. A child’s immune system is more than able to cope with being exposed to many more viruses and bacteria at one time. All the trials we have carried out of this new vaccine have shown it to be safe and effective and it has been used as part of the routine schedule in other countries such as Canada since 1998, where more than 3.5 million doses have been given”

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