By Peter McLaren-Kennedy • 01 February 2022 • 9:24
UK health authorities have described the situation in England as “very worrying” as figures reveal MMR vaccine rates in the country at a 10-year low. Effectively that’s one in 10 children aged five are not up to date with their two doses.
Today the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the NHS will launch a joint appeal urging parents and guardians to ensure their children have had their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines, as well as other routine jabs before they start school.
According to UKHSA there has been a significant drop in the number of children being vaccinated since March 2020, with the latest figures showing just under 90% had their first jab by age two and 85% both jabs by age five.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says 95% of children need to be vaccinated to keep the highly contagious measles away. With international travel resuming, it is also more likely that measles will be brought in from countries that have higher levels of the disease.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, a Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA said: “Even a small drop in vaccine coverage can have a big impact on population immunity levels and lead to outbreaks.
“Measles can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain, which require hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long-term disability or even death.
Prof Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health says: “It is very worrying that more than one in 10 children are not fully protected against measles by the time they start school.
“There has been so much focus on Covid over the past two years, but we mustn’t forget about measles, which has not gone away.”
All children are invited for their first MMR vaccine on the NHS aged one, with the second dose given when they are three years and four months.
The NHS says it has continued to prioritise routine vaccinations throughout the pandemic, however, some parents say they didn’t realise the NHS was still offering appointments, or they didn’t want to burden the NHS, according to UKHSA.
Separate research commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and UKHSA, conducted by Censuswide, shows many parents are unaware of the risks measles poses to their unvaccinated children.
Of 2,000 parents and guardians of children aged five or under surveyed, almost half (48%) were unaware measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Just four in 10 (38%) were aware that measles can be fatal.
Dr Nikki Kanani, Medical Director for Primary Care at NHS England, said: “It is incredibly important that all parents and guardians ensure their child is up to date with their routine vaccinations, including MMR, as these vaccines give children crucial protection against serious and potentially deadly illnesses and stop outbreaks in the community.
“If your child has missed a vaccination, please contact your GP practice to book an appointment as soon as you can to make sure they have maximum protection against disease.”
The low MMR vaccine rates in England could lead to a return of the disease placing further stress on a health system already struggling to keep up following the pandemic.
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Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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