Public Health England (PHE) experts are calling for all parents to get their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) when the vaccine is offered, or for them to take it up now if they didn’t have it at the scheduled time.
MMR vaccine is offered routinely to infants in England, as part of the NHS Childhood Immunisation Programme, from 12 months of age with a second dose offered at 3 years and 4 months of age. Those who missed out will remain susceptible to the diseases, but are still recommended to get the vaccine.
The call to get vaccinated coincides with European Immunisation Week, which is run by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with the theme to ‘close the immunisation gap’. It also coincides with an increase in measles cases currently being seen in England.
Vaccine uptake rates in England are currently among the highest in Europe, but an increase is still needed to reach the WHO’s 95% target for MMR vaccination in 2 year olds.
The measles immunisation gap in England equates to approximately 24,000 children in England every year (2,000 a month) who are not currently receiving MMR vaccination at the scheduled time (from 12 months of age) and who remain susceptible to the diseases the vaccine protects against.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It’s now less common in the UK because of the effective MMR vaccination programme. Although usually a mild illness in children, measles can be more severe in adults.
Those who are unvaccinated, remain susceptible to the disease. 2 doses of MMR vaccination also provides protection against 2 other common highly infectious diseases: mumps and rubella.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE said, “We’re asking parents, young people and healthcare professionals to help us eradicate measles in this country. Back in the days before a vaccine was available, hundreds of thousands caught measles and around a hundred people died each year. But now, the whole community benefits from the herd immunity the safe and effective MMR vaccination offers – fewer people get ill and the disease’s spread is restricted.
“Following the introduction of the measles vaccination in 1968, the number of cases dropped dramatically and deaths from measles are now extremely rare. That number could fall even further if more people get vaccinated.
“This is an opportunity to consign measles to the history books. The cases we are seeing currently in England are being confirmed mainly in adolescents and young adults, and it’s never too late for them to have the vaccine. Those who have not received 2 doses of the vaccine in the past – or who are unsure – should speak to their GP. There’s no harm in receiving an additional dose where there is any uncertainty.
“Public Health England asks that parents, and young adults, remain alert to measles. Signs to look out for can include cold-like symptoms, sore red eyes, a high temperature or a red-brown blotchy rash. Those experiencing symptoms should seek medical attention, but phone ahead before visiting GP surgeries so arrangements can be made to prevent others from being infected.
“It’s crucial pregnant women have been vaccinated with MMR as rubella in particular can cause serious complications during pregnancy. The MMR vaccination provides you and your baby important protection and can be given before you become pregnant or after you’ve given birth. Pregnant women who are unsure if they’ve been vaccinated should check with their GPs.”