Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he is "looking very seriously" at making vaccinations compulsory for all children going to school in England.

Matt Hancock told a Conservative party conference fringe event on Sunday that he had taken legal advice on how to go about making vaccinations compulsory for all children at school. He said unvaccinated children were "putting other children at risk".

However, asked if Number 10 supported the idea of not allowing children into state schools without vaccinations, Prime Minister Johnson’s spokesman said: “We’re not at the stage of refusing admission. Our priority is on increasing vaccination numbers, and I’ve set out some of the things that we’re doing.”

These plans include making it easier for parents to book GP appointments for vaccinations, and keeping better records on children who have not been vaccinated. The spokesman said: “We take children’s health very seriously and the reality is vaccine uptake is very high at over 90%. But the health secretary has rightly said that the current fall in vaccination rates is unacceptable.

“We’re working hard to make it easier for parents to get their children vaccinated, and that’s why we’re looking at how we can ensure that every child is properly protected.”

Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine uptake in particular has been declining in many countries. In England, the proportion of children receiving both doses of the MMR vaccine by their fifth birthday has fallen over the last four years to 87.2%. This is below the 95% needed to provide "herd immunity".

Rates dipped in the 1990s following publication of the report linking MMR to autism, but partly recovered after that research was discredited and disproved. However, the amount of anti-vaccine sentiment on social media has been increasing and, in March, the head of NHS England warned "vaccination deniers" were gaining traction online.

Matt Hancock said at the fringe event organised by the Huffington Post: "I'm very worried about falling rates of vaccinations, especially measles. For measles, the falling vaccination rates are a serious problem and it is unbelievable that Britain has lost its measles-free status."

He added: "The worst thing is if you don't vaccinate your child and you can, then the person you are putting at risk is not only just your own child, but it's also the child that can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. Maybe they have cancer and their immune system is too weak.

"I don't want the debate to put people off because there is absolute clarity on what the science says and what the right thing is to do."

Several US states including California have introduced laws for state-educated pupils but have also faced lengthy legal challenges.

Last reviewed 1 October 2019