Boris Johnson orders action to stop measles spread

Baby with measles (or rubella)Image copyright Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ordering urgent action to ensure that children and young people in Britain are protected against measles.

The disease can be stopped through two doses of the MMR vaccine, but immunisation rates have been falling for a number of reasons.

And the UK has lost its measles-free status, three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases in the UK.

The prime minister announced that:

  • GPs are being asked to promote catch-up vaccinations for children who may have missed out on both doses
  • Social media companies are being urged to quash misleading anti-vaccine messages
  • The firms will be invited to a summit to explore how they can better promote accurate vaccination information
  • The government will also use the NHS website to address misleading claims about the safety of vaccines

Measles outbreaks in the UK

Many of the UK cases were acquired abroad with some onward spread in under-vaccinated communities.

Just 87% of children in England are receiving their second dose, which is below the 95% target for measles elimination.

The first dose of the MMR vaccine is offered to all one-year-olds. Children are given a second dose of MMR before they start school.

But estimates suggest that in England, one in seven five-year-olds has yet to be fully immunised. Uptake in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been higher than in England, but still below target.

Image copyright Getty Images

Experts say the drop in uptake may be partly because of complacency – people perceiving the threat of infection as too low to matter. Anti-vaccination messaging may also have contributed.

Mr Johnson said: “There’s a number of reasons why people don’t get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.

“From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.”

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We are still suffering from the now entirely debunked MMR scandal of the nineties, and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to serious, often life-threatening infectious diseases, such as measles, that we could have completely eradicated in this country if this had never happened.

“People who were not vaccinated as children need to understand that it is not too late to have their MMR jab and we would urge them to do so.”

Global issue

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “It’s easy to forget how devastating measles can be, precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place.

“With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations – especially for our children – and this time we will eliminate measles for good.”

Measles is a highly contagious and dangerous infection. Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine will be at risk.

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Media captionThe BBC investigated in 2018 why there’s been a measles outbreak in Europe

Measles is now endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.

Measles cases nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018, the World Health Organization has confirmed.

So far this year there have been 364,808 measles cases reported around the world.

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