Objective: To explore parents' and guardians' views and experiences of accessing National Health Service (NHS) general practices for routine childhood vaccinations during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in England.
Design: Mixed methods approach involving an online cross-sectional survey (conducted between 19th April and 11th May 2020) and semi-structured telephone interviews (conducted between 27th April and 27th May 2020).
Participants: 1252 parents and guardians (aged 16+ years) who reported living in England with a child aged 18 months or under completed the survey. Nineteen survey respondents took part in follow-up interviews.
Results: The majority of survey respondents (85.7%) considered it important for their children to receive routine vaccinations on schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, several barriers to vaccination were identified. These included a lack of clarity around whether vaccination services were operating as usual, particularly amongst respondents from lower income households and those self-reporting as Black, Asian, Chinese, Mixed or Other ethnicity; difficulties in organising vaccination appointments; and fears around contracting COVID-19 while attending general practice. Concerns about catching COVID-19 while accessing general practice were weighed against concerns about children acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease if they did not receive scheduled routine childhood vaccinations. Many parents and guardians felt their child's risk of acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease was low as the implementation of stringent physical distancing measures (from March 23rd 2020) meant they were not mixing with others.
Conclusion: To promote routine childhood vaccination uptake during the current COVID-19 outbreak, further waves of COVID-19 infection, and future pandemics, prompt and sustained national and general practice level communication is needed to raise awareness of vaccination service continuation and the importance of timely vaccination, and invitation-reminder systems for vaccination need to be maintained. To allay concerns about the safety of accessing general practice, practices should communicate the measures being implemented to prevent COVID-19 transmission.