Warning to parents as measles cases shoot up amid slump in vaccination rates


Measles cases have doubled in a year as experts warn that children may die unless vaccination uptake increases. 

Health officials have blamed low uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine for a series of outbreaks in Britain this winter.

They urged parents to check their kids have had both doses of the jab, or risk them becoming seriously ill and fuelling prolonged outbreaks.

The West Midlands is in the grips a of a major outbreak with more than 50 children needing hospital treatment for the virus over the last month. It is the region’s worst outbreak since the mid-1990s.

A significant number of cases have simultaneously been reported in London, with immunologists warning that the UK is far from its measles-free status in 2019. 

In England, 89.3 per cent of two-year-olds received their first dose of the MMR vaccine in the year to March 2023 (blue line), up from 89.2 per cent the previous year. Meanwhile, 88.7 per cent of two-year-olds had both doses, down from 89 per cent a year earlier

In England, 89.3 per cent of two-year-olds received their first dose of the MMR vaccine in the year to March 2023 (blue line), up from 89.2 per cent the previous year. Meanwhile, 88.7 per cent of two-year-olds had both doses, down from 89 per cent a year earlier

At least 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks, under public health guidance.

But nationally, the proportion of five-year-olds who are fully-jabbed has fallen to 84.5 per cent — the lowest in more than a decade. The trend has partly been blamed on the rise of anti-vaxx beliefs.

UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data show there were 1,603 suspected cases in England and Wales in 2023.

The figure is more than twice as high as the 735 logged in 2022 and an almost five-fold rise compared to the 360 cases reported in 2021. 

The suspected cases are based on official notifications by doctors making a diagnosis from clinical symptoms. 

While not all are later confirmed to be measles by laboratory tests, health chiefs warn that levels are clearly rising. 

WHAT JABS SHOULD I HAVE HAD BY AGE 18?

Vaccinations for various unpleasant and deadly diseases are given free on the NHS to children and teenagers.

Here is a list of all the jabs someone should have by the age of 18 to make sure they and others across the country are protected:

Eight weeks old

  • 6-in-1 vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and hepatitis B.
  • Pneumococcal (PCV)
  • Rotavirus
  • Meningitis B 

12 weeks old

  • Second doses of 6-in-1 and Rotavirus 

16 weeks old

  • Third dose of 6-in-1
  • Second doses of PCV and men. B 

One year old 

  • Hib/meningitis C
  • Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)
  • Third dose of PCV and meningitis B 

Two to eight years old

  • Annual children’s flu vaccine

Three years, four months old

  • Second dose of MMR
  • 4-in-1 pre-school booster for diphtheria, tetanus, polio and whooping cough

12-13 years old (girls)

  • HPV (two doses within a year)

14 years old

  • 3-in-1 teenage booster for diphtheria, tetanus and polio
  • MenACWY  

 Source: NHS Choices

The MMR jab is first offered to children aged one, with a second injection available soon after they turn three.

Two doses offer up to 99 per cent protection against the measles, mumps and rubella, which can lead to meningitis, hearing loss and problems during pregnancy. 

UKHSA data shows that cases in the West Midlands have surged.

In December, 57 suspected cases were detected, representing more than a quarter of all 217 cases detected across England and Wales that month.

Figures released today also showed there were 198 cases recorded in the West Midlands between January and the end of November 2023.

Around 80 per cent of cases were in Birmingham, most in young and school-age children who were not vaccinated with MMR, the UKHSA said. 

Dr Naveed Syed, a consultant in communicable disease control at the UKHSA, based in the West Midlands, warned he was seeing ‘cases of measles rising every day’.

He added: ‘Uptake of MMR in the ­region is much lower than needed to protect the population, which is giving this serious disease a chance to get a foothold in our communities.’

Dr Syed urged the parents of school children to ensure they have had both doses. 

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chair of the Government’s vaccine taskforce, told The Times: ‘If vaccine coverage does not improve, it is likely that deaths and other complications from measles will reappear.

‘This disease can be prevented, indeed in 2016 we showed that it can be completely blocked from our shores. 

‘With the virus transmitting in England today, it would be a tragedy if any child were to die from measles when we have the tools in front of us to stop it.’

Latest NHS Digital shows that up to four in ten children in parts of England haven’t had both MMR jabs by the time they turn five.

Just 56.3 per cent of youngsters that age in Hackney, east London, were fully-protected against measles, mumps and rubella in 2022/23.

After Hackney came Camden (63.6 per cent) and Enfield (64.8 per cent).

Outside of London, the lowest uptake rates for both doses among five year olds were logged in Liverpool (73.6 per cent), Manchester (74.5 per cent) and Birmingham (75.1 per cent).

Worries about low uptake in the capital saw councils send letters to parents warning unvaccinated children may be excluded from school for three weeks in the event of an outbreak in their classroom. 

This advice was first issued by UKHSA chiefs in 2019 but councils flagged it to parents amid a spike in measles cases. 

Measles can infect nine in ten unjabbed children in a classroom if just one classmate is infectious. 

In November, new guidelines were drawn up for NHS staff when dealing with children with respiratory infections, urging them to ‘think measles’.

The document, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, asked health professionals to check the vaccination records of all children arriving at hospital.

Measles, which mostly produces flu like symptoms and a rash, can cause very serious and even fatal health complications if it spreads to the lungs or the brain. One in five children who catch measles will need to go to hospital, with one in 15 developing serious complications like meningitis or sepsis

Measles, which mostly produces flu like symptoms and a rash, can cause very serious and even fatal health complications if it spreads to the lungs or the brain. One in five children who catch measles will need to go to hospital, with one in 15 developing serious complications like meningitis or sepsis 

Any showing symptoms of the disease should be immediately isolated while staff ought to wear personal protective equipment, it urged.

Measles, which mostly produces flu like symptoms and a rash, can cause very serious and even fatal health complications if it spreads to the lungs or the brain. 

One in five children who catch measles will need to go to hospital, with one in 15 developing serious complications like meningitis or sepsis.

Medics have been increasingly concerned that measles, which has long been kept at bay because of these vaccines, could make a return due to declining uptake. 

Uptake of the MMR jab collapsed in the wake of study by the now discredited medic Andrew Wakefield which falsely linked the jabs to autism.

MMR uptake in England was about 91 per cent prior to Wakefield’s study being published but plummeted to 80 per cent in the aftermath.

While rates have recovered slightly, thanks to concentrated efforts by health officials, a rise in anti-vax sentiment during the Covid pandemic is thought to have contributed to some parents opting not to get their children jabbed. 

An NHS England spokesman said: ‘Measles is incredibly infectious, can cause serious illness and has no specific treatment — so the best possible ­protection is vaccination.

‘The MMR vaccine is safe and has been used to protect children for decades, so it’s very important to check your child’s vaccination status and get them caught up with any missed doses.’

IS ANDREW WAKEFIELD’S DISCREDITED AUTISM RESEARCH TO BLAME FOR LOW MEASLES VACCINATION RATES?

In 1995, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.

He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.

After a 1998 paper further confirmed this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed ‘autistic enterocolitis’] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’

At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.

Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and the UK plummeted, until, in 2004, the editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by a group pursuing lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.

The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.

Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practising medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.

On January 6, 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.

At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.

Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.



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