The UK Health Security Agency has called for action on tackling the spread of measles. Cases of the highly contagious disease have increased in recent years, however the most recent surge has led to the outbreak being declared as a ‘national incident’. Without an increase in vaccine uptake, it is feared this rise could continue. Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA said that vaccination rates in the UK are below the that recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Recent statistics from the UKHSA heave revealed a significant increase in measles cases in the UK. 59% of measles cases in 2023 were in children under 10 years old. For children, the disease can be dangerous and cause serious health complications particularly in those under 5. More than 200 cases were in the West Midlands alone. In an interview on Radio 4’s Today Programme, Dame Harries said that ‘the focus this morning is on the West Midlands, but I think the real issue is we need a call to action right across the country.’
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Uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine has reached the lowest levels since 2010/11, with 85% of children receiving the two doses by 5 years old. The goal is 95%, in order to avoid outbreaks. Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health Officer for Health Services, Dr Ronny Cheung, said, ‘vaccination coverage for children under the age of 5 is now the lowest it has ever been in the past 10 years and outbreaks for diseases like measles are now more likely than ever.’
Declaring the outbreak as a ‘national incident’ means that more resources can be put into tackling the measles problem. Many areas are now offering mobile vaccination clinics to encourage uptake in vaccinations, including the borough of Camden, which sees one in four children starting school with either 1 or less doses of the MMR vaccine.
Symptoms of measles include a high fever, red eyes, a blotchy red or brown rash, and coughing and sneezing. Usually, measles clears up after just over a week, however if it spreads to other parts of the body can cause serious problems. Dr Cheung stressed the safety of the vaccine. ‘The good news for parents and carers is that the MMR vaccine is highly effective with a very good safety record. Two doses are needed for best protection,’ He said. ‘Be assured that it is never too late for your child to get these critical vaccinations’.