Parents warned over measles epidemic

A stark warning about the dangers of measles is to be sent to the parents of three million unvaccinated children in an unprecedented move to increase uptake of the MMR vaccination, the Government will announce today.

Department of Health scientists say Britain faces a greater threat of a measles epidemic, which would result in up to 100,000 children and young people being infected, than at any time for decades.

Doctors are desperate to push vaccination rates back to the level they were before claims that the MMR vaccine could cause autism – never substantiated – drastically reduced immunisation levels from the late 1990s onwards.

The NHS has stockpiled 500,000 doses of the vaccine with a further one million on order for delivery by October, in an attempt to vaccinate everyone up to the age of 18. The extra vaccine is in addition to the supplies for the routine childhood immunisation programme.

England's 150 primary care trusts will receive £30,000 each on average – twice that in London – to identify unvaccinated children and encourage their parents to bring them in for the injection.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation for the Department of Health, said: "We have got so many susceptible [unvaccinated] children, there will be an epidemic at some point. You cannot carry that number without having an epidemic. There is measles in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Italy – there is a lot of it about. We can either sit on our hands or do something about it."

Measles cases have risen sharply in the past two years. There were 1,726 cases in 2006 and 2007 in England and Wales, more than in the 10 previous years put together, when there were a total of 1,621 cases. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) warned in June that the number of unvaccinated children was now large enough to sustain the "continuous spread" of the potentially lethal virus. It said measles had become endemic 14 years after its spread was halted in the resident population, as reported by The Independent.

The HPA blamed a failure by parents to take their children for the MMR vaccine during the past 10 years, after the scare about a supposed link between the vaccine and autism.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer, launched the campaign yesterday by writing to all health authorities and GPs telling them of the "urgent action" required to avert an epidemic.

"Measles is serious. It can lead to pneumonia and encephalitis and it can kill. Around 10 per cent of cases of measles require hospital admission and fatality rates of one per 5,000 are still seen in the UK, with recent epidemics in industrialised countries having even higher rates," his letter says. It adds that there have been two deaths from measles in recent years – in 2006 and 2008 – after more than a decade in which there were none.

The catch-up campaign will target all those up to the age of 18 who have been identified from health records as unvaccinated or having received only one of the recommended two vaccinations, normally given at 13 months and three and half years.

Letters to parents will warn of the recent rise in cases and urge them to bring their children for vaccination at a specific date and time.

London is at greatest risk because vaccination rates are lowest in the capital. In the last quarter of 2007, the rate stood at 71 per cent for children at age two (first dose) and 50 per cent at age five (second dose) compared with the 95 per cent coverage needed to maintain herd immunity and prevent endemic spread.

Nationally, MMR vaccination rates fell from 92 per cent a decade ago to 79 per cent in 2004, at the height of the scare over the vaccine's supposed link with autism. They have since recovered to 84 per cent at age two (75 per cent at age five) but are still well below the target level of 95 per cent.

Professor Salisbury defended the decision to offer parents the triple MMR vaccine for defence against the single virus disease of measles.

"Exactly the same children need to be protected against mumps and rubella. The fact we have got measles now is because it is highly infectious but we will have mumps and rubella outbreaks.

"In 1994, when we ran a similar catch-up campaign, we could only get a measles and rubella vaccine because [the triple] MMR was in short supply on the world market. In 2005, we had a mumps epidemic among teenagers affecting that same group of children who had missed their mumps vaccination a decade earlier. That lesson is not one we need to learn again."

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Life and Style
tech
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
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
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

    Graduate Pricing Analyst - 6 months / 1 year analytical experience

    £20000 - £25000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

    Senior Management Accountant

    £40000 - £46000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Global publishing and digital bu...

    Year 2 Teachers needed for day to day supply

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitve rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Yea...

    Year 4 Teachers needed for day to day supply across the region

    £110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ye...

    Day In a Page

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits