Uptake of childhood vaccines protecting against measles, whooping cough, and meningitis in Cornwall has fallen following the Covid pandemic, new figures show – as measle and whooping cough cases rise across the country.

The growth of 'vaccine hesitancy' has led the UK Health Security Agency to launch campaigns aiming to boost uptake as cases of measles and whooping cough are surging across the UK.

As part of our ongoing series looking at how the Covid pandemic has changed society, figures from the UKHSA show 89% of five-year-olds in Cornwall last year had both doses of the MMR vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

The uptake was down from 91.2% in 2019-20, before the pandemic hit.

It comes as there have been 730 cases of measles in England since October last year. The current outbreak was initially in Birmingham and the West Midlands – but cases have now also been identified in the North West, London, East Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Steve Russell, NHS England’s director of vaccinations and screening, said: "Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and can cause serious harm to adults and children of all ages.

"But the NHS MMR vaccine gives life-long protection against becoming seriously unwell, so with cases of measles on the rise, it is not worth the risk of going without this vital protection."

Across England, uptake of the MMR vaccine has fallen from 86.8% in 2019-20 to 84.5% last year.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant medical epidemiologist for immunisation at UKHSA, added: "Anyone who is not vaccinated against measles can catch it.

"Being unvaccinated also means you risk spreading the disease to others, including those at greatest risk of becoming seriously ill – like infants, who aren’t able to receive their MMR vaccine until their first birthday, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system."

Similarly, whooping cough cases are on the rise, with 553 confirmed in England in January alone. This is compared with 858 cases for the whole of last year.

These recent cases include 22 infants aged under three months.

In Cornwall, uptake of the six-in-one vaccine – which protects against whooping cough and polio – also fell from 95% of two-year-olds in 2019-20, to 94.6% last year.

The six-in-one jab is given to babies when they are 8, 12 and 16 weeks old.

Across England, uptake fell to 92.6% compared to 93.8% before the pandemic.

Mr Russell said: "With whooping cough on the rise, it is important that families come forward to get the protection they need.

He added pregnant women or children not up to date with their vaccine should contact their GP to organise an appointment.