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London at risk of measles outbreaks

UKHSA modelling suggests that, unless MMR vaccination rates improve, London could see a measles outbreak with tens of thousands of cases.

Between 1 January and 30 June this year there have been 128 cases of measles, compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022, with 66% the cases detected in London although cases have been seen in all regions.

The UKHSA assessment finds the risk of a measles epidemic across the UK is considered low. However, with lower current levels of coverage in London, a measles outbreak of between 40,000 and 160,000 cases could occur in the capital.

Outside London the risk of large measles outbreaks is low but we could see smaller outbreaks in specific populations, including teenagers, young people and under vaccinated communities. Those who have never received a measles vaccine (MMR) are at risk.

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‘Measles can easily spread between unvaccinated people and can be serious, but it is preventable, which is why we continue to encourage Londoners to take up the vaccine – with GPs calling over 10,000 parents of unvaccinated children, and hundreds booking appointments to get vaccinated as a result,’ said Jane Clegg, Regional Chief Nurse for the NHS in London.

‘Cases of measles in the capital remain low but it’s really important that people check that they, and their children, are up to date with their jabs and protected against MMR – and if you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with your GP practice or local pharmacist for advice. Now’s the time to act to protect yourself and loved ones from measles.’

The risk in London is primarily due to low vaccination rates over several years, further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in some areas and groups where coverage of the first MMR dose at 2 years of age is as low as 69.5%.

Parents should check their children are fully vaccinated with 2 MMR doses, which gives 99% life-long protection, by checking their red book or with their GP practice, which younger and older adults can also do. Anyone not up-to-date should make an appointment as soon as possible.

‘Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to complications especially in young children and those with weakened immune systems. Due to longstanding sub-optimal vaccine uptake there is now a very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London,’ said Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA Consultant Epidemiologist.

‘Measles spreads very easily but is preventable. To help protect ourselves, our families and those around us it is vital we all ensure we are vaccinated with 2 doses of the MMR vaccine, free on the NHS whatever your age. Parents can check their children’s red book to see if they are up to date or if you’re not sure anyone can call their GP practice. It’s important everyone is fully vaccinated before travelling overseas this summer.’