Children of mothers with mental illness are significantly less likely to receive preventative health vaccinations during the first five years of life, according to a University of Manchester study.
The research, from the University’s Centre for Women’s Mental Health, has important implications for the uptake of a vaccine for COVID-19, which may become available in 18 months’ time. Last year, in the Manchester team estimated that one in four children in the UK has a mother with a mental illness meaning that a quarter of UK children could be affected.
The findings also come at a time of increasing global concern about the general uptake of vaccinations – especially measles, mumps and rubella or MMR. Though vaccines are provided for free in most countries, 15% of children remain unvaccinated globally, according to the WHO, often leading to serious illness, disability and even death.
Recent outbreaks of measles in Europe and the US indicate a significant decline in herd or collective immunity as a result of reduced vaccination uptake in infants. The trends have been attributed to scepticism about the safety of vaccination, particularly following the discredited report by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 linking the MMR vaccine to childhood autism.
The Centre for Women’s Mental Health study, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology used data from around 480,000 mothers and children followed up to the age of five. It revealed that the children of mothers with depression and psychotic illnesses were 14% less likely to receive necessary vaccinations at two years, compared to children of unaffected women.
And children of mothers with alcohol and substance misuse disorders were 50% less likely to receive necessary vaccinations at two years, compared to children of unaffected women. It is the largest study ever to look at the association between maternal mental illness and childhood vaccination uptake.
The data were sourced from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink between 1993 and 2015 and examined vaccinations for Diphtheria, Tetanus, Whooping cough, Haemophilus influenza (A), Polio, as well as the MMR vaccine.