Parents in the South West are being asked to check their children are fully up to date with their measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) due to a rise in measles cases.
There have been 49 cases of measles in the UK so far this year compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022, according to the latest figures from the UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA).
The MMR vaccination is provided by the NHS with the first dose being offered when a child is one and the second at three years and four months. It provides protection against measles, mumps and rubella which can cause long-term health conditions such as blindness and asthma.
Professor Dominic Mellon, Deputy Director for UKHSA South West, said: “Measles is not ‘just a harmless childhood illness’. It spreads very easily and can lead to complications that require a stay in hospital and on rare occasions can cause lifelong disability or death, so it is very concerning to see cases increasing. During the COVID-19 pandemic we saw a fall in uptake for the routine childhood vaccinations, including MMR which leaves us vulnerable to outbreaks, especially as people start to travel abroad for summer holidays to places where measles is more common.
“Vaccines are our best line of defence against diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and help stop outbreaks occurring in the community. That is why we’re asking all parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date with their two MMR doses. The vaccines are free on the NHS whatever your age. If anyone has missed one or both doses of the MMR vaccine, contact your GP practice to book an appointment. It is never too late to catch up.”
Symptoms of measles include a high fever, sore red watery eyes and a blotchy red brown rash, and it is particularly easy to catch in environments when in close contact with others.
In recent years the number of children vaccinated against MMR has fallen. Uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine in 2-year-olds in the South West is 93.2%, and uptake of two MMR doses at 5 years is 90.6%, below the 95% target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which is necessary to achieve and maintain elimination.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, uptake for routine childhood immunisations has fallen globally leaving many children unprotected from serious infections and countries at increased risk of outbreaks. Measles is now circulating in many countries and the WHO has warned that Europe is likely to see a resurgence unless countries catch-up children who missed out.
The UKHSA is urging parents of young children, teenagers and adults to check they are up to date with their MMR vaccines, particularly before they travel this summer and before attending festivals where measles can spread more easily.
Healthcare professionals have been alerted to the recent rise in cases and asked to be vigilant to further cases while also working with communities to increase vaccination uptake.
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness, so anyone with symptoms is advised to stay at home and phone their GP or NHS 111 for advice, before visiting the surgery or A&E, to prevent the illness spreading further.
If you are unsure if your child has missed a vaccination, check their red book or contact your GP practice. You can find out more about the MMR vaccine and measles on the NHS website, along with further details about the routine vaccine schedule.