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Doctors urged to watch for measles, as vaccine rate dips

Doctors told to be on high alert as vaccine rates among children have dropped to a record low.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) Vaccine rates have dropped to a 10-year low, risking outbreaks of the highly infectious and dangerous virus.  The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has urged medics to use ‘every opportunity’ to check a child’s vaccination status and offer the MMR jab to those who have not had two doses.

‘Having to consider measles in our national guidance for the first time in decades is a disappointing but necessary move. Vaccination coverage for children under the age of five is now the lowest it has ever been in the past 10 years,’ said Dr Camilla Kingdon, RCPCH president.

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‘We are already starting to see the effects of this with measles outbreaks occurring in London, Wales and Leicester,’ she said.

In the UK, latest figures show that only 84.5% of eligible children received a second shot of the protective MMR jab – the lowest level since 2010-11. This is less than the 95% threshold set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that is required for herd immunity.

Internationally, lower uptakes rates have resulted in a 30% rise in measles cases—even in countries such as the USA, where measles had been eradicated in 2000—prompting WHO to declare vaccine hesitancy as one of the ten biggest threats to global health.

According to WHO, vaccine hesitancy is one of the major causes of low uptake, with the effects of disgraced British’s doctor Andrew Wakefield’s falsely linking the MMR jab to autism still being felt worldwide– as anti-vaccine movements continue to drive down inoculation rates, particularly in developed countries.

A report by the Department of Health and Social Care found that over 50% of British parents younger than 5 years of age perceived MMR as more dangerous than other vaccines and cited autism as a concern.

Complacency is another factor, with vaccine hesitant parents considering measles as low risk. A WHO survey of English parents of children aged under 5 years reported that over 60% of respondents were unaware that measles can be fatal, and almost 50% were not aware that it can lead to serious complications.

In the UK, language barriers, low literacy, poverty and inequitable funding for GP practices are also major drivers of low immunisation rates.

The RCPCH has called for a 3-pronged approach to prevent a measles outbreak, urging the government to ‘publish its overdue national vaccination strategy, focus attention on ensuring equal access to immunisations across socio-economic groups and undertake measures to counter vaccine hesitancy to safeguard the progress towards measles control.’