Parents are being urged to keep childhood vaccination appointments during national coronavirus restrictions.
Public Health England (PHE) is reminding parents and guardians that lockdown measures should not stop children from receiving life-saving vaccines.
It says the NHS is ensuring that appointments are still available and that routine jabs should continue to go ahead.
PHE said during the first few weeks of the first lockdown in March and April, there was a decline in the number of children receiving MMR vaccines, and hexavalent vaccines – the six in one jab that covers diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B.
It suggests a possible explanation is that Covid-19 messaging about staying at home initially overwhelmed the message that the immunisation programme was operating as usual.
Data released by PHE on Tuesday indicates a continued recovery since April, but uptake is still behind on previous years.
Health experts are concerned the levels may fall again, leaving thousands of children vulnerable to serious illness.
According to data from 38% of GP practices, 3.8% fewer hexavalent vaccines and 2.8% fewer MMR vaccines have been given compared to the same time last year.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said: “Vaccines remain the best defence against infection.
“It’s essential we maintain the highest possible uptake to prevent a resurgence of serious and sometimes life-threatening diseases.
“Routine vaccinations are still available throughout the pandemic – it’s vital that we continue to make it as easy and safe as possible for parents to take their children to appointments.”
Dr Nisha Jayatilleke, national specialty adviser – immunisation at NHS England and NHS Improvement, said: “Vaccines provide essential protection against potentially life-threatening diseases, and the NHS is doing everything it can to enable children to continue to have their vaccinations, while keeping them safe from coronavirus.
“Provided you, your child or any member of your household are not showing signs of coronavirus, we strongly encourage you to take your children for their vaccination appointments.”
As well as the MMR and hexavalent vaccines, parents and guardians are also encouraged to ensure two to three-year-olds get their flu nasal spray from their GP as winter approaches.
The call comes as vaccines have come under the spotlight with the announcement of a Covid-19 vaccine by Pfizer/BioNTech showing positive results in clinical trials.
New data suggests the vast majority of parents and guardians in England would likely accept a Covid-19 vaccine for themselves and their children.
According to survey results published in the Vaccine journal, 90% of parents would be inclined to accept a coronavirus vaccine for themselves, and 89% for their children.
The research team, led by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, used a multi-methods approach – involving an online cross-sectional survey and interviews – to find out parents’ and guardians’ views on a future Covid-19 vaccine.
The survey was completed by 1,252 parents and guardians (aged 16 and over) who reported living in England with a child aged 18 months or under.
Nineteen survey respondents were interviewed.
Respondents were asked: “If a new coronavirus (Covid-19) vaccine became publicly available would you accept the vaccine for yourself?”
Researchers found that 55% said “definitely”, 34.3% said “unsure but leaning towards yes”.
When asked if they would accept a vaccine for their child or children, 48.2% said “definitely”, and 40.9% said “unsure but leaning towards yes”.
Less than 4% of respondents reported that they would definitely not accept a vaccine for themselves or their child/children.
The survey revealed the main motivation for vaccine acceptance was for self-protection from Covid-19.
Common concerns underpinning vaccine refusal were around vaccine safety and effectiveness.
Study co-author Dr Pauline Paterson, assistant professor at LSHTM and co-director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, said: “Communication is key.
“Parents and guardians must be supported to understand the benefits of children being vaccinated, such as protecting grandparents and older relatives.”