Data from the UKHSA in July 2023 suggests a “steady rise” in measles cases in the UK throughout the year, with the organisation suggesting that specific groups are at risk. Furthermore, a new risk assessment indicates there is “potential” for a measles resurgence in London. This would be particularly dangerous for people who have never received a measles (MMR) vaccine, which is part of the NHS Routine Childhood Immunisation Programme. Parents of children who have missed out, or anyone who is unvaccinated, “are urged to come forward”.
From the start of the year to 30th June there was a total of 128 recorded cases of measles, which compares unfavourably with a total of 54 cases in the whole of the previous year. Although cases have been seen across all regions, 66% were detected in London.
Although the risk of an epidemic across the UK is still considered “low”, current coverage in London could lead to an outbreak of between 40,000 and 160,000 in the city. There is also a high risk of cases associated with overseas travel, which would cause outbreaks in specific population groups like young people and under-vaccinated communities.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, described measles as a “serious infection” that can lead to “complications”. She is concerned about the “very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London”.
The UKHSA states that susceptibility is “particularly high” among 19- to 25-year-olds, who may have been affected by “unfounded stories” in the early 2000s. This group is known as the “Wakefield cohort, named after researcher Andrew Wakefield, who incorrectly drew links between the MMR vaccines and autism. Consequently, many children born around 2000 missed out on essential vaccines.
The risk to London is primarily due to “low vaccination rates over several years”, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In some groups, coverage of the first MMR dose by 2 years of age is as low as 69.5%. Herd immunity is essential for protecting everyone, including very young infants and other vulnerable groups.
Check your status
The NHS, as part of efforts to protect people against measles, is launching a campaign that encourages people to check their vaccination status, particularly targeting groups in London. Parents are being urged to check that children have received both MMR doses, offering 99% life-long protection. This can be checked in the child’s “red book” or through the GP practice. Anyone who is not up to date can make an appointment to remedy this.
Dr Saliba emphasised the urgency of a “catch-up”:
“Nobody wants to see their child or loved ones sick with measles, or put others who are more vulnerable, like babies, at risk.”
Jane Clegg is Regional Chief Nurse for the NHS in London and knows that “measles can easily spread between unvaccinated and can be serious”. However, it ‘is preventable”.
“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.”
“Now’s the time to act to protect yourself and loved ones from measles.”
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