Urgent action to improve vaccine uptake rates has been ordered by new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, after the UK lost its measles-free status.
The numbers of measles cases has been steadily rising across Europe, and there were 230 cases in England in the first quarter of this year. According to PHE, one in seven five year-olds starting school this September will not be adequately protected against the disease.
It means that the UK has lost its ‘measles-free’ status with the World Health Organisation (WHO) – three years after the virus was eliminated in the country. The WHO have stated that in the first six months of 2019 reported measles cases globally are almost three times as many as the same time last year. Measles is now endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.
The Prime Minister has called for health leaders to renew their efforts to meet 95% for both doses of MMR. Currently just 87% of children are getting their second dose of the jab, which has likely contributed to the spread of measles.
‘After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we’ve now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year. One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread,’ said Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Actions to achieve this include NHS England writing to GPs urging them to promote ‘catch up’ vaccination programmes for MMR for 10-11 year olds, as well as all those 5-25 year olds who have not had two doses of the jab; strengthening the role of local immunisation coordinators, and addressing parents’ concerns about vaccines by updating the advice on NHS.uk specifically to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines.
‘This is a global challenge and there’s a number of reasons why people don’t get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised,’ added Mr Johnson.
‘From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.’
The RCN welcomed Mr Johnson's initiative, but added that tackling nursing shortages was key to increasing uptake. 'These suggestions will go some way towards improving the uptake of vaccines. A system-wide approach, better access to appointments combined with improved public information and communication with parents on a one-to-one level, is the most effective way to ensure more people receive vaccines they need,' said RCN Professional Lead for Public Health, Helen Donovan.
'Nurses are pivotal to earning public trust in the vaccination programme and are a vital source of information for parents and guardians. This job is made more difficult when vaccination services are fragmented. The widespread nursing shortages further compound the issue.'