Measles outbreak: race to give a million children MMR jabs


One million children who missed out on the MMR vaccine around a decade ago are to be targeted in a national campaign to raise the level of protection against measles.

Alarmed by the Swansea outbreak, where almost 900 people have been diagnosed with the disease, Public Health England is appealing today to parents of children who missed one or both of the MMR jabs before the age of five to send them for vaccination.

Measles was virtually eliminated in the 1990s following the introduction of MMR vaccine after the disease infected over 500,000 children a year in the 1950s and 1960s. But the disease re-established itself in the mid-2000s following an unfounded scare linking MMR to autism which caused many parents to abandon the vaccine.

Immunisation rates fell nationally to less than 80 per cent in 2005. Older children who missed their vaccinations are now the most vulnerable.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said children born in 2001-02, who are now just starting secondary school, had the highest rate of non-vaccination, and this was also the age group in which measles cases were highest. "We have a legacy of older children who were not vaccinated as toddlers. They are now at secondary school where measles can spread very effectively. We estimate a third of a million 10- to 16-years-olds are completely unvaccinated," she said.

London and the South-east are at greatest risk of outbreaks because the region's traditionally more mobile population made families more difficult to track.

Dr Ramsay said: "Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so we are very disappointed that cases have recently increased. The only way to prevent outbreaks, such as the one we are seeing in South Wales, is to ensure good uptake of the MMR vaccine across all age groups. Measles is not a mild illness – it is very unpleasant and can lead to serious complications."

The campaign will also target the third of a million 10- to 16-year-olds who had only one vaccination, as well as children younger than 10 and older than 16 who also missed the jabs, numbering a further third of a million. The aim is to complete the £20m campaign by September.

Unvaccinated children will be identified from GP records, where possible, and their parents will be contacted. But experts urged parents not to wait for a letter but bring their children to vaccination clinics to be provided in GP surgeries, schools and health centres.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said it had stockpiled 1.2 million doses of vaccine, enough for every unvaccinated child. "The message is very simple: if you don't believe your children had two doses of MMR make an appointment with your GP," he said. Children are offered an MMR vaccine at 12 to 13 months, giving 95 per cent protection, and a second dose at three-and-a-half, which boosts this to 99 per cent.

The last drive to increase MMR vaccination levels in 2008 had only limited success. But Professor Salisbury said the new campaign would be better co-ordinated, with a higher profile. "This time we have got evidence of risk [from Swansea] that is so clear. We didn't have that last time."

About one in 15 children who catch measles will develop complications like deafness, meningitis or brain damage. One in 5,000 will die. The year before the MMR was introduced, 86,000 children caught measles and 16 died. Because it spreads easily, 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated. There have been two deaths in recent years – in 2006 and 2008 – after over a decade of none. Fifty years ago, the illness killed 500 children a year in the UK, but vaccination almost eliminated it.

Vaccination rates vary widely but are at their lowest in London where, in some areas, they dropped as low as 30 per cent in the mid-2000s. Cases of measles so far this year are distributed across England but are highest in the North-west and North-east.

Of the 108 people who have been admitted to hospital with measles this year – 20 per cent of those infected – 15 had complications including pneumonia, meningitis and gastroenteritis.

Dr Paul Cosford, director of health protection at Public Health England, said letters and flyers about the campaign would be distributed to schools and messages would be posted on Facebook and Twitter.

"Nationally the numbers needing catch-up vaccination are quite large but there are relatively few in each local area. We are confident that local teams have the resources to identify and vaccinate those children most at risk, and that the NHS has sufficient vaccine. Our plan aims to target 'hard to reach' populations with known low vaccination rates."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

    £26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

    Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

    Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

    Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral