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."

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Saunders stars as Miss Windsor, Dennis's hysterical French teacher
filmJennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
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

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum