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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Manager - SAS - Data Warehouse - Banking

    £350 - £365 per day: Orgtel: Manager, SAS, Data Warehouse, Banking, Bristol - ...

    Web Analyst – Permanent – West Sussex – Up to £43k

    £35000 - £43000 Per Annum plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

    Internal Project Manager - Business Analyst, Financial Services

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: One of the best known and most pr...

    SQL DBA/Developer

    £500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL DBA/Developer
 SQL, C#, VBA, Linux, SQL Se...

    Day In a Page

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment