Parents urged to check children are up to date with MMR vaccinations

Parents are being urged to check children are up to date with their MMR vaccinations, as data published today by UKHSA shows the number of measles cases so far in 2023 is already approaching the figure for the whole of 2022.

Between 1 January and 20 April this year there have been 49 cases of measles compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022. Most of the cases have been in London although there have been cases picked up across the country and some are linked to travel abroad. Caryn Cox, Health Protection Consultant leading on vaccine preventable diseases for UKHSA West Midlands, said:

“Measles is a highly infectious disease with symptoms including a high fever, sore, red watery eyes, and a blotchy red-brown rash. The infection can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia, meningitis, and on rare occasions, disability or death.

"During the pandemic we saw a fall in uptake for routine childhood vaccinations, including MMR – so while it’s very concerning to see a rise in cases this year, it’s not completely unexpected, as reduced vaccine uptake has left us more vulnerable to outbreaks.

“Measles can spread quickly in environments where unvaccinated people are in close contact. As we enter festival and holiday season, with more people mixing and travelling abroad to places where the disease is more common, there’s a risk we could see many more cases across the country if people aren’t up to date with their MMR vaccinations

“The MMR vaccine is safe, effective, and free of charge from the NHS, no matter what your age. You need two doses to ensure you’re completely protected, but it’s never too late to catch up.

"If you’re not sure that everyone in your family is up to date with their MMR vaccinations – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella – check with your GP surgery, or you may be able to access records through online GP services.”

In recent years the number of children vaccinated against measles has fallen. Uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in 2-year-olds in England is 89%, while uptake of two MMR doses at age 5 years is 85% - exactly the same picture for the West Midlands region. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination of the infection.

During the COVID-19 pandemic uptake for routine childhood immunisations has fallen globally leaving many children unprotected from serious infections and countries at increased risk of outbreaks. Measles is now circulating in many countries around the world and the WHO has warned that Europe is likely to see a resurgence unless countries catch-up children who missed out.

Children are offered the first dose of the MMR vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, when they turn 1 and the second dose at 3 years and 4 months. The UKHSA is urging parents of young children, teenagers and adults to check that they are up to date with their MMR vaccines, particularly before they travel this summer and before attending summer festivals where measles can spread more easily.

Healthcare professionals have been alerted to the recent rise in cases and asked to be vigilant to further cases whilst also working with communities to increase vaccination uptake.  

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness, so anyone with symptoms is advised to stay at home and phone their GP or NHS 111 for advice, before visiting the surgery or A&E, to prevent the illness spreading further.


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