Measles cases rise but the number of children vaccinated falls as parents told to check child’s MMR records

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The UK Health Security Agency has predicted a rise in MMR cases across Europe as cases in England rise

Health experts from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are urging parents to check their children are fully up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab following a rise in measles cases. The data was published on May 4, 2023 by the UKHSA.

It shows a rise of 49 cases of measles between January 1 and April 20 in comparison to a rise of 54 cases in the whole of 2022. Most of the cases involved have been picked up in London, however, the UKHSA has warned some cases have been picked up across the country with some being linked to travel abroad.

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A spokesperson for the UKHSA has said that the number of children vaccinated against measles has fallen. The uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in England is below the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) target – which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.

The first dose of the MMR vaccine is usually taken by children aged 2, with the next doses taken by children aged 5. Uptake for routine childhood immunisations has fallen globally during the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many children unprotected. 

The UKHSA confirmed that measles is now circulating in many countries, with WHO warning that Europe is likely to see a resurgence unless children who aren’t up to date with vaccines catch up.

MMR vaccine

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “We are calling on all parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date with their 2 MMR doses. It’s never too late to catch up, and you can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age.

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“Vaccines are our best line of defence against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and help stop outbreaks occurring in the community.

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Measles spreads very easily and can lead to complications that require a stay in hospital and on rare occasions can cause lifelong disability or death, so it is very concerning to see cases starting to pick up this year.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a fall in uptake for the routine childhood vaccinations, including MMR which leaves us vulnerable to outbreaks, especially as people travel abroad for summer holidays to places where measles is more common.”

What is measles?

Measles is a highly-infectious disease that can lead to serious problems including pneumonia and meningitis. On rare occasions, long-term disability or death can occur from the disease.

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Symptoms can include a high fever or sore eyes and it’s particularly easy to catch in environments when in close contact with others. The symptoms can include:

  • High fever

  • Sore, red watery eyes

  • Blotchy, red-brown rash

Since measles is highly infectious, anyone with symptoms is asked to stay at home and phone their GP or NHS 111 for advice before going to surgery or A&E. NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening, Steve Russell, said: “The NHS has an inspiring history of successful vaccination programmes that have proven time and time again they are the best tool in our arsenal against the spread of highly infectious diseases and since vaccination for measles cases was introduced, over 4,500 lives have been saved.

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“The MMR vaccine has helped prevent the development of potentially life-threatening illness among millions, and it is clear that when uptake falls, infections rise, so I strongly urge parents to review the status of their child’s vaccinations so they can keep them and others protected from measles, mumps and rubella.”

How to check your child’s MMR vaccine is up to date

As a result of the rise in measles cases, parents are being urged to check if their children are fully up to date with their vaccinations. To do this, you can check their vaccine record in their personal child health record – known as the red book. Failing this, you can contact your GP practice.

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