EFFORTS to increase the uptake of vaccinations for children are being stepped up in an area where a significant number of parents are opting out of the programme, just days after public health bosses raised concerns over rising cases of measles.

A Darlington Borough Council meeting heard while 88 per cent of children in the area were up to date with immunisations, the national goal was 95 per cent.

Members of the authority’s children and young people scrutiny committee were told the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) immunisation level in the borough does not meet recommended coverage with seven per cent of two-year-old children not having had a dose.

Councillor Matthew Snedker said action to raise the number of children vaccinated was crucial following the World Health Organisation declaring the UK as no longer free of measles last week.

Measles is a highly contagious and potentially fatal illness that causes coughing, rashes and fever and can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine.

The authority’s public health principal, Ken Ross, told its children and young people scrutiny committee that a higher child immunisation rate would not stop all cases diseases such as measles, but would prevent it turning into an outbreak.

He said: “Parents who have their children immunised have made a positive choice, but they are also protecting the small number of children who can’t be immunised because of an auto-immune disease. By default you are also protecting the children whose parents decide not to immunise them.”

Mr Ross said strategies such as increasing access to clinics were being developed to encourage parents from “hard to reach families”, such as those with no fixed address or those with literacy issues, to take part in the immunisation programme.

He said the authority was also working with GPs to tackle the relatively low uptake for children in care as the older children got the more difficult it had been to get them to attend immunisation appointments.

However, he added: “One of the big stumbling blocks is that we continue to have negative stories in the media. We haven’t suffered from this as badly in Darlington as have other parts of the country.”

After the meeting, the council’s children and young people portfolio holder Councillor Paul Cruddas called on parents to ignore misleading information being spread by anti-vaccination campaigners.

He said: “Uptake of vaccines in Darlington has not been the best and we would hope the interest groups that are trying to stop people having these vaccinations would not be successful.

“We would encourage everybody to have the vaccines available given that they give immunity across the community.”