A national campaign to promote the uptake of a vaccine that protects against measles is in England following an increase in cases of the potentially fatal disease.
The situation has led the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to declared a national incidentwith health experts warning further outbreaks could occur in other towns and cities unless uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine increased in risk areas.
Figures from NHS England suggest that more than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 are unprotected against this trio of serious and preventable diseases.
The new campaign will encourage parents and carers of children aged six to 11 to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice so they can receive missed MMR vaccinations, and just over a million people aged 11 to 25 in London and the West Midlands will also be encouraged to catch up on missed shots.
“People who have not been vaccinated can get mumps MMR pop-ups in schools and other convenient locations, while GPs, teachers and trusted community leaders encourage groups less likely to be stung to come forward,” says Steve Russell, NHS England’s director of vaccinations and screening.
“This all builds on the national MMR catch-up campaign which the NHS rolled out at the start of winter, with text, email and letter reminders sent out to parents and guardians of children up to five who are yet to receive full protection is.”
Measles is a highly contagious virus that can cause serious illness and even death in children and adults. If measles is contracted during pregnancy, it can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight.
Although there is no specific treatment for measles, it can be prevented.
Experts have stressed that the MMR vaccine is not only safe, but highly effective, with around 99% of people protected against measles after two doses.
MMR shots are given twice, typically at age one and then at three years and four months. Protection against measles after two doses is lifelong.
In 2016 the UK was declared measles free. However, that status has since been lost.
NHS data revealed a decline in uptake of the MMR vaccine in recent years, with figures for 2022-23 showing that only 84.5% of children in England had received the second MMR vaccine dose by the age of five.
However, there is considerable variation in uptake across the country, with figures as low as 74% Londoncompared to 90% in the south west.
Survey matters for individuals and the wider community: vaccination rates of 95% would stop measles from spreading altogetherto protect those who cannot be vaccinated, such as young infants.
This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about MMR survey. Andrew Wakefield’s now comprehensively denied 1998 claims that the MMR shot was linked to autism led to a decline in vaccinations that left a generation of young people at greater risk of measles, pumpkins and rubella.
The current decline in uptake is thought to be due to a number of factors, including the influence of vaccine misinformation, some parents mistakenly not treating measles as serious, people having trouble getting appointments, and the impact of the Covid pandemic.
UKHSA consultant medical epidemiologist Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam said the continued downward trend in the uptake of routine vaccinations for children was a serious concern.
“The diseases that these vaccines protect against, such as measles, can be life-changing and even fatal. “No parent wants that for their child, especially when these diseases are easily preventable,” she said.
Prof Helen Bedford from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health welcomed the campaign.
“By targeting six to 11-year-olds, they will target the age group where we see the most cases. In addition, 11- to 25-year-olds in low uptake areas where we see the outbreaks will also be targeted,” she said.
But, Bedford added, “It’s also important to remind parents all children, older teenagers and young adults that they too should and can be vaccinated.”