Health officials warn parents of 'imminent' measles epidemic

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Public health officials will this week launch a major campaign to persuade parents to immunise their children with the MMR jab to counter the imminent threat of a severe measles epidemic.

Public health officials will this week launch a major campaign to persuade parents to immunise their children with the MMR jab to counter the imminent threat of a severe measles epidemic.

The Health Protection Agency believes major outbreaks of the infectious disease are all but inevitable in areas where take-up of the vaccination has fallen to dangerously low levels.

London is to be the initial focus of a "catch-up" campaign targeting the capital's primary schools to forestall a winter epidemic.

Take-up among two-year-olds for the single inoculation against measles, mumps and rubella continues to fall and is now well below the 95 per cent coverage needed to prevent outbreaks.

Despite a comprehensive scientific demolition of any link between the vaccine and autism, take-up rates are now just 80 per cent nationally, falling to 62 per cent in some parts of London.

Earlier this month, public health officials warned that a severe outbreak in the capital was now expected.

Mary Ramsay, consultant epidemiologist at the HPA, said: "We're predicting an epidemic from this."

The introduction of the MMR vaccination helped to all but wipe out the disease in recent years. However, experts believe that London alone now has 350,000 unprotected children under 16.

It is estimated that an average of 15 per cent of children and adults would be admitted to hospital if infected by measles. People with measles can suffer serious complications such as meningitis and pneumonia.

A Department of Health official said that the "catch-up" campaign in London would seek to engage primary school heads to persuade parents of children who had slipped through the net to immunise their children.

¿ Measures to reduce so-called "bed blocking" have freed up a million "bed days" since 2001, ministers will claim this week. A report from the Government's "old-age tsar", Professor Ian Philp, will say Britain's elderly have never been healthier.

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