The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) published data in May 2023 that reveal a rise in measles cases, mostly in London. Some have been identified in other areas of the country and others are linked to international travel. As the number of children vaccinated against the highly infectious disease has fallen over recent years, UKHSA is encouraging people to check their children’s vaccination history. 

Measles on the rise 

In November 2022 the WHO described measles as a “growing threat” due to decreasing uptake in the vaccine that protects against measles. The new data suggest that from the start of the year to 20th April there have been 49 cases of measles. This, compared to 54 cases in the whole of the previous year, is a concerning increase. UKHSA indicates that uptake for the first dose of the MMR vaccine, protecting against measles, mumps, and rubella, in children aged 2 in England is 89%. Uptake of 2 MMR doses in children aged 5 is 85%, “well below” the 95% target set by WHO. This target has been set to achieve sustained elimination.  

UKHSA recognises that the COVID-19 pandemic presented significant barriers to routine immunisations globally. However, as we emerge from the pandemic, many children remain unprotected against serious infections as the UNICEF State of the world’s children report details. With measles circulating in many countries around the world, WHO is warning that Europe may see a resurgence.  

Protective measures 

In the UK children are offered the first dose of the MMR vaccine at 1 year of age, with the second following at 3 years and 4 months.  

“UKHSA is urging parents of young children, teenagers, and adults to check they are up to date with the MMR vaccines.” 

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, echoed this call: 

“It’s never too late to catch up, and you can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age.”  

Dr Saliba described vaccines as “our best line of defence” against diseases like measles. Steve Russell, the NHS Director of Vaccinations and Screening, described the NHS’ “inspiring history of successful vaccination programmes”. These have “proven time and again” that they are the “best tool in our arsenal”.  

“I strongly urge parents to review the status of their child’s vaccinations so they can keep them and others protected.”