Data published today by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows there has been a rise in measles cases.
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.
Measles is a highly infectious disease that can lead to serious problems such as pneumonia, meningitis, and on rare occasions, long-term disability or death. Symptoms include a high fever, sore red watery eyes and a blotchy red-brown rash, and it is particularly easy to catch in environments when in close contact with others.
In recent years, the number of children vaccinated against measles has fallen. Uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine – which protects against measles, mumps and rubella – in children aged 2 years in England is 89% and uptake of 2 MMR doses in children aged 5 years is 85%. This is well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.
During the coronavirus (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 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 when aged one year and the second dose aged 3 years 4 months. UKHSA is urging parents of young children, teenagers and adults to check 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.
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.
Vaccines are our best line of defence against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and help stop outbreaks occurring in the community.
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.
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. This will help to prevent the illness spreading further.
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.
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.
To see if your child is up to date with their MMR vaccines, check your child’s personal child health record (PCHR), known as the red book, or contact your GP practice. If anyone has missed one or both doses of the MMR vaccine, contact your GP practice to book an appointment. It is never too late to catch up.