Hundreds of anxious parents and their young children queued for hours at hospitals in South Wales yesterday for free MMR vaccinations aimed at curbing a measles epidemic. Officials say the outbreak has affected 588 people in parts of south, mid and west Wales. They said more than 800 MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccinations were administered yesterday.
Public Health Wales (PHW) said the slowdown in the spread of the disease was due to a rise in the number of people being inoculated, but it warned 3,800 children had still not had both doses of the MMR vaccine necessary to achieve immunisation.
Dr Marion Lyons, director of health protection for PHW, said: "I'm hopeful that through our collective efforts and with responsible parents getting their children vaccinated, we can minimise the risks to children from this dreadful disease."
Some began waiting for the free jab session at Swansea's Morriston Hospital where the outbreak has centred, an hour before its doors opened at 10am. Similar free sessions, aimed at children but also available for anyone born after 1970 who had not had measles or been vaccinated, were also held in Neath, Port Talbot and Bridgend. PHW said just 600 people in the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board area received the jab in the past week, though that figure excluded children vaccinated as normal at 13 months and three years.
Officials said the vaccination programme appeared to be slowing the epidemic. There have been 47 new cases of the disease reported since Wednesday – less than half the increase of the previous week. Last month, a PHW official said it was "just a matter of time" before a child is left with serious and permanent complications, such as eye disorders, deafness or brain damage, or perhaps even dies.
Typical symptoms of measles include fever, cough, conjunctivitis or a rash, though ear infections, vomiting, diarrhoea, pneumonia and meningitis are common.
In England, the Health Protection Agency has already declared an outbreak of 200 confirmed and 176 suspected cases in the North-east, one of the worst incidents in recent years.