As measles cases surge across England, the National Health Service (NHS) has embarked on an urgent mission to vaccinate millions of children who are currently unprotected. With more than 3.4 million children under 16 at risk, NHS England is focusing on areas with low uptake of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, particularly targeting regions like the West Midlands and London.
Measles is an infectious disease that spreads through respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes. It is recognized by several symptoms:
- Elevated fever
- Eyes that are sore, reddish, and teary
- Persistent coughing
- Frequent sneezing
- The appearance of small white spots inside the mouth
After a few days, a patchy red or brown rash often emerges, first on the face and behind the ears, then spreading across the body.
The disease typically resolves within 7 to 10 days, but it can lead to serious complications like pneumonia, meningitis, blindness, and seizures.
High-risk groups include infants and young children, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems.
Measles can be lethal, although it is uncommon. From 2000 to 2022, there were 23 reported fatalities from measles or related complications.
Understanding the Spike in Measles Cases
The MMR vaccine, administered in two doses, is crucial for protecting against measles. However, current figures reveal that only 85% of children starting primary school have received both jabs, significantly below the 95% target necessary to prevent the spread of this disease. In major cities like Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and Nottingham, the percentage drops to a concerning 75%.
The Nationwide Campaign
NHS England’s current campaign is reaching out to more than four million parents, carers, and young adults through various communication channels. This includes over a million children aged six to 11 across England, along with significant numbers of older children and young adults in key areas like London and the West Midlands.
MMR 1ST AND 2ND DOSE UPTAKE AMONG 5 YEAR OLDS IN ENGLAND
COVERAGE BY LOCAL AUTHORITY, FOR 2022-23
A substantial number of young adults remain unvaccinated due to the lingering effects of a discredited study linking the vaccine to autism 25 years ago. Steve Russell of NHS England emphasises the urgency of addressing the measles spread through catch-up jabs at accessible locations and community engagement.
The Risks and Dangers
Measles poses severe risks, particularly to babies too young for vaccination, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. The disease can result in serious complications like stillbirth, miscarriage, and other developmental issues during pregnancy.
Experts argue that the decline in vaccination rates isn't solely due to anti-vaccine sentiments. Factors such as accessibility to GP services, busy schedules, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have also played significant roles. Initiatives like setting up clinics in schools and providing mobile vaccination units are steps being taken to improve vaccination rates.
The MMR vaccine is highly effective, with two doses providing substantial protection against measles, mumps, and rubella. Despite this, the coverage remains below the World Health Organization's recommended levels, leading to increased outbreaks. The MMR vaccine is available at GP surgeries for children who have missed their doses, and adults can also catch up on vaccinations.
GP Delays Spike Measles Cases
The resurgence of measles in the UK is being exacerbated by significant delays in securing GP appointments for the crucial Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccinations. Parents are struggling to access timely vaccinations for their children, leading to a concerning drop in the overall vaccine uptake. This situation is directly impacting herd immunity and contributing to a spike in measles cases, particularly highlighted in regions like the West Midlands. To combat this public health challenge, there is a growing call for pharmacies to be authorised to administer the MMR vaccine. This move could potentially alleviate the burden on GP practices and offer a more accessible and convenient option for vaccinations. As the government scrambles to implement measures like additional clinics and targeted outreach, the involvement of pharmacies could be a crucial step in reversing the trend of rising measles cases and restoring the necessary level of herd immunity to protect the population.
Children registered with our NHS Practice, GP at Hand, can access walk-in appointments for vaccinations, including at weekends. Message our Support Team for more information.
The Way Forward
The NHS's campaign is a clarion call for action to prevent the spread of measles. With more than 200 cases recently confirmed in the West Midlands and the risk of further outbreaks, it is vital for parents and young adults to ensure they and their children are fully vaccinated. The MMR vaccine, available in different forms to cater to various needs, including dietary restrictions, is a key weapon in this fight against a preventable yet dangerous disease.
With the NHS proactively reaching out to millions, it is crucial for everyone to play their part in safeguarding public health. Ensuring your child’s vaccinations are up to date is not just a personal health measure; it is a community responsibility.
- MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine - NHS
- Measles deaths by age group from 1980 to 2013 - ONS data - GOV.UK
- Latest news on measles outbreaks and vaccination efforts - BBC News
- NHS Vaccinations and When to Have Them - NHS
- NHS Launches Catch-Up Campaign for Missed MMR Vaccines - NHS England
- Measles & COVID-19: A Dangerous Combination - National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
- How Long Are Patients Waiting for a GP Appointment in England? - Nuffield Trust
- Need a GP Appointment? It'll Take a Month, Watchdog Says - The Times