Measles Vaccination Rates Plunge to Lowest Level in a Decade

Measles vaccination rates in England have dropped to the lowest in 10 years with more than one in 10 early-age children at risk of the disease, data has revealed.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the NHS have launched a campaign urging parents to ensure that children receive their measles vaccinations as well as mumps and rubella (MMR) jabs prior to beginning school.

Figures show that between July and September 2021, 88.6% of children in England were administered with their first MMR dose by the age of two with 88.5% receiving their second dose by the age of five. This is well below the 95% target recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to prevent the re-emergence of the disease.

Health experts have warned that the spotlight on COVID-19 pandemic has meant that measles is now “waiting in the wings” to stage a comeback.

Measles is highly contagious and can cause serious illness including pneumonia and encephalitis (brain inflammation), and the disease also has the ability to damage the immune system which means that children can be more susceptible to other infections.

Vaccination defence

However, vaccination against this can build up significant defences and remove all these potential risks. Two doses of the MMR vaccine can provide 99% protection against measles and rubella and approximately 88% protection against mumps.

Since the vaccine was first introduced in 1968, it is gauged that around 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK. However, fears have grown that the disease could circulate and spread.

The NHS have stated that they continue to prioritise routine vaccinations during the pandemic, but some parents have not vaccinated their children due to not realising that appointments were still being offered.

The MMR vaccine is free on the NHS after a child passes their first birthday and a second dose is offered just before they begin nursery.

‘Incredibly important’

Consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, Dr Vanessa Saliba, said: “The MMR vaccine offers the best protection from measles, mumps and rubella which is why we’re calling on parents and carers to make sure their children are up to date with their two doses.

“Even a small drop in vaccine coverage can have a big impact on population immunity levels and lead to outbreaks.

“I would urge parents to check if their children are up to date with their MMR vaccines and if not to get them booked in as soon as they are able. It’s never too late to catch up.”

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: “It is incredibly important that all parents and guardians ensure their child is up to date with their routine vaccinations, including MMR, as these vaccines give children crucial protection against serious and potentially deadly illnesses and stop outbreaks in the community.

“If your child has missed a vaccination, please contact your GP practice to book an appointment as soon as you can to make sure they have maximum protection against disease.”

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