A new strategy, announced by Public Health England, aims to ensure a ‘measles, rubella and congenital rubella syndrome free future’.
The new strategy includes several recommendations to maintain measles and rubella elimination going forward focusing on four key areas.
These include achieving and sustaining over 95% coverage with two doses of MMR vaccine in the routine childhood immunisation programme, as well as 95% coverage with two doses of MMR vaccine in older age groups. Additionally, he strategy aims to strengthen measles and rubella monitoring, and ensure easy access to evidence-based information for health professionals and the public.
‘Our achievements to date are a testament to the hard work of health professionals in the NHS. But, if we wish to build on our successes, and sustain measles and rubella elimination for future generations action needs to be taken now,’ said Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE. ‘A future free of measles and rubella is within reach if we continue to focus our efforts on reaching 95% uptake with two doses of MMR for all children and catch up teenagers and young adults who missed out.’
Since the introduction of the measles vaccine, an estimated 20 million cases and 4500 deaths have been prevented the UK. Additionally, it is estimated that rubella vaccination has prevented an estimated 1.4 million cases of rubella, 1300 congenital rubella syndrome births, and averted 25,000 terminations. congenital rubella syndrome is caused when rubella disrupts the development of an unborn baby, leading to serious birth defects.
However, new analysis also found that immunity levels within some age groups across the UK, especially those aged 15 to 20 years, are well below the levels needed to prevent measles from spreading.
The World Health Organization confirmed that the UK eliminated rubella in 2015 and measles in 2016. Elimination means that measles and rubella are no longer native to the UK. It does not mean that these diseases have been completely wiped out. Measles and rubella remain endemic in many countries around the world and with recent large measles outbreaks across Europe, imported infections pose a severe risk to the UK’s achievements.
In 2016 and 2017, uptake of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in five year olds in the UK exceeded 95% for the first time. However, two doses of MMR vaccine are required, to ensure full protection from measles.