New estimates show one in seven 5-year-olds have yet to be fully immunised against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), with the figure rising to one-in-four children in London. Around 30,000 (one in 19) 5-year-olds may still need to receive their first dose of the vaccine. One in eight children starting school still need their 4-in-1 preschool booster.
Earlier this month Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for ‘urgent action’ to boost the number of children receiving both doses of the MMR vaccine following news that the UK has lost its measles-free status. In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK.
Head of Immunisation at Public Health England, Dr Mary Ramsay said: ‘Losing our measles-free status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated. Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine.
‘Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak. Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.’
Dr Ramsay added: ‘It’s a real concern that so many young children – as many as a quarter of a reception class in some areas – could be starting school without the full protection that the NHS childhood immunisation programme offers. We are particularly concerned about children being at greater risk of measles.’
NHS England is writing to GPs urging them to promote catch-up vaccination programmes for MMR for 10-11 year olds, as well as all those aged 5-25 who have not had both doses.
Advice on NHS.uk is also to be updated specifically to address parents’ concerns about the so-called dangers of vaccines, and a summit meeting of social media companies is to be convened to discuss how they can play their part in promoting accurate information.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ’We are still suffering from the now entirely debunked MMR scandal of the nineties, and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to diseases, such as measles, that we could have completely eradicated in this country if this had never happened.’
But she added: ‘It is not just the responsibility of GPs and other healthcare professionals to combat anti-vaxxer propaganda, everyone has a part to play, but we also need technology companies to take responsibility and tackle negativity and confusion around vaccination information.’