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UK no longer measles-free as vaccination rates fall dramatically

PM Boris Johnson calls for urgent action

Vaccine

The UK has lost its measles-free status just three years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the country had eliminated the virus. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday called for urgent action to ensure more children receive the MMR vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus. Measles can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine, but many children are not getting fully immunised. In just the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed measles cases in the UK, which the government has said were mostly acquired abroad, with onward spread in under-vaccinated communities.

The rates of children in England receiving the second dose of the MMR vaccine is only 87%, according to NHS Digital. The rates of children receiving the first and second dose by their fifth birthday are the lowest in London, with the borough of Merton at only 66.7%.

Johnson wants to see this figure increase to 95%, the standard target for measles elimination, and has announced plans to help tackle the falling rates through a range of prevention tactics. This includes asking GPs to promote catch-up vaccinations for children who may have missed out on both doses of the MMR vaccine, urging social media sites to tackle misleading anti-vaccine messages and using the NHS website to address misleading claims about vaccines.

Sheuli

Sheuli Porkess, executive director, ABPI

The vocal support from the prime minister has been welcomed by the pharma sector.

“Vaccines are set to help the NHS tackle some of the biggest public health challenges it faces over the next decade: tackling antimicrobial resistance by preventing infections before they start, preparing for health emergencies such as Ebola outbreaks, helping care for an ageing population and keeping people healthy from infections like flu,” said Sheuli Porkess, executive director at the ABPI.

The falling rates of childhood vaccinations is not a problem unique to the UK. There has been increasing global scepticism around the safety and efficacy of vaccines, with WHO now naming ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. According to WHO, measles in particular is now endemic in countries such as France, Germany and Italy, despite being entirely preventable.

Experts have blamed the decrease in vaccination rates on ‘viral misinformation’, which has been exacerbated by the internet and social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

“This is a global challenge and there are 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,” said Johnson in the announcement.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the focus on vaccinations is part of a wider drive on prevention, following its publication of the Prevention Green Paper last month. Within that document, the government has said it “will continue to emphasise the preventative value of vaccines at every opportunity...to ensure that people have the facts they need, and that vaccine misinformation is addressed as effectively as possible”.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

20th August 2019

From: Healthcare

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