England’s measles vaccination rate drops to 10-year low raising outbreak warnings

First dose is given when a child is a year old, with a second after their third birthday

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 20, 2013 14-month-old Amelia Down sits on the lap of her mother Helen (L) as she receives the combined Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination at an MMR drop-in clinic at Neath Port Talbot Hospital near Swansea in south Wales on April 20, 2013.  Measles cases are skyrocketing in Europe and the disease is surging in four countries previously considered to have eliminated it, including Britain, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on August 29, 2019, urging countries to step up vaccination efforts. / AFP / GEOFF CADDICK
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England’s rate of vaccination against measles has fallen to a 10-year low, leading health authorities to issue a warning to parents.

The rate of children who have had two doses of the MMR vaccination that helps protect against measles, mumps and rubella stands at 85.5 per cent.

The figure is the lowest recorded for a decade and well short of the 95 per cent target experts say is vital to stave off a resurgence of measles. It means that more than one in 10 children aged 5 is not up to date with the required two doses of the MMR vaccine.

Measles is a highly infectious disease that can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis — inflammation of the brain.

In addition, measles infection damages and suppresses the whole immune system, leaving children much more susceptible to catching other infections.

In rare cases, measles can lead to a condition called SSPE, or subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, that can cause progressive destruction of the central nervous system, loss of motor control, epilepsy and even death.

The first MMR dose is administered to a child at the age of one and the second when they are aged three years and four months. AFP

The UK Health Security Agency is urging parents to ensure their children have had the MMR vaccination as well as other routine vaccinations before starting school.

NHS England advises all parents and guardians of children to bring children forward for their first MMR dose at the age of one. A follow-up dose is given when the child is three years and four months old.

Mind the gap

The most recent vaccine figures, covering July to September last year, show that only 88.6 per cent of children had had their first MMR dose by the age of 2, while the figure drops to 85.5 per cent for those who have had both doses aged 5.

As part of the campaign, research commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and the UKHSA of 2,000 parents and guardians of children aged 5 and under found nearly half (48 per cent) were unaware that measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation.

Only four in 10 (38 per cent) were aware that measles can be fatal and 56 per cent did not know that two doses of the MMR vaccine provides 99 per cent protection against measles and rubella.

Nearly two years after the Covid-19 pandemic reached the UK, a new campaign by the UKHSA and the NHS aims to increase the uptake in MMR vaccines. The UKHSA said there has been a significant decrease in parents presenting their children for the MMR since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

The UKHSA said that as international travel resumed it was more likely that measles would be brought into the UK from countries that have higher levels of the disease, making it important that MMR vaccination rates increase there.

“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,” Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said.

“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, a GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said vaccines offered “crucial protection” against measles and other diseases and prevented community outbreaks.

Parents who are unsure if their child is up to date with all their routine vaccinations are advised to check their child’s Red Book (personal child health record).

An estimated 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK since the introduction of the vaccine in 1968.

Updated: February 01, 2022, 8:39 AM