Measles nearly endemic as parents refuse MMR jabs

Measles is on the verge of becoming endemic in Britain because of the reluctance of some parents to inoculate their children with the three-in-one MMR vaccine, researchers say.

Scientists have predicted that outbreaks of the viral disease will get worse as the proportion of unvaccinated children in the population increases. And the new research warns that if the number of unprotected children continues to grow at the present rate, a national epidemic is inevitable.

The study by the University of London and the Government's Health Protection Agency found that the spreading ability of measles had significantly increasedin the past five years, a period in which the MMR vaccine was said to be linked to autism. It estimates that the reproductive number ­ a statistical term to describe how many people on average become infected from a single measles case ­almost doubled between 1995 and 2002.

Vincent Jansen from Royal Holloway College, lead author of the study published in the journal Science, said: "We are now close to the point where new infections will no longer fizzle out on their own. We are approaching the danger zone where measles could once again become an endemic disease in the UK. We are not there yet, but it may be going that way.

"We are reporting a correlation between the drop in vaccinations and the increasing size of measles outbreaks. The coincidence is suggestive of a causative connection, but we cannot draw this conclusion from our data. My hope is that this is a warning signal."

The research team investigated measles outbreaks involving more than one child going back to 1995 and found that they increased in frequency and size in late 1998, soon after the supposed link with autism and the three-in-one measles, mumps and rubella vaccine received publicity.

They estimated the reproductive number and found that it increased from 0.47 in the period from 1995 to 1998 to 0.82 in 1999-2002. When the reproductive number is smaller than one, an outbreak will fizzle out, but if it becomes greater than one then the infection spreads because, on average, each individual with measles passes it on to more than one other person.

"The increase in the reproductive number occurred almost immediately after the decrease in the MMR vaccine uptake," the researchers report.

"If the current low level of MMR vaccine uptake persists in the UK population, the increasing number of unvaccinated individuals will lead to an increase in the reproductive number and possibly the re-establishment of endemic measles and accompanying mortality," they say.

Mary Ramsay, a researcher at the Health Protection Agency, said that in some parts of the UK ­ notably the South-east ­ uptake of the MMR vaccine was about 70 per cent. If this was to occur nationwide, endemic measles could occur.

"There's no doubt there's a possibility if vaccine cover does not improve. I don't think we'll see a national epidemic this winter but we are likely to see bigger and bigger outbreaks in different parts of the country," Dr Ramsay said.

"I don't want to scaremonger. Parents should look at the evidence and the evidence is pretty clear that the MMR vaccine is not linked with autism," she added.

Although vaccine uptake is low among children less than two years old, it is higher among school-age children. "For this reason I feel confident that we're not going to see large epidemics sweeping through schools as they used to," Dr Ramsay said.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own