Measles on the increase

Further outbreaks of measles will spread to other towns and cities unless urgent action is taken to increase Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination uptake in areas at greatest risk, the UK Health Security Agency’s (UKHSA) Chief Executive is warning.

There have been over 216 confirmed cases and 103 probable cases in the West Midlands. Around 80% of cases have been seen in Birmingham, with about 10% in Coventry, the majority being in children aged under 10 years.

Following a UKHSA risk assessment published last July, which warned of the potential for such outbreaks, Dame Jenny has expressed concern that unless urgent action is taken we are likely to see the measles virus spreading rapidly in other areas with low MMR vaccine uptake.

The UKHSA has declared a national incident. This is an internal mechanism within the Agency signalling the growing public health risk and to enable the Agency to focus on limiting further spread of the outbreak including additional work to help protect other areas at greatest risk.

MMR is part of the NHS Routine Childhood Immunisation Programme – with one dose offered at one year and another second dose at 3 years 4 months. Parents whose infants missed out, or anyone of any age who has not yet had a vaccine, are urged to come forward. The free MMR vaccine is a safe and effective way of protecting against measles, as well as mumps and rubella.

Measles spreads very easily among those who are unvaccinated, especially in nurseries and schools. It can be a very unpleasant illness and in some children can be very serious, leading to hospitalisation and tragically even death in rare cases. People in certain at-risk groups including babies and young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immunity, are at increased risk of complications from measles.

Over 99% of those who have 2 doses of the MMR vaccine will be protected against measles and rubella. The vaccine also provides protection against mumps, which can be very painful with complications including inflammation of the ovaries and testicles, and in rare cases, the pancreas. Although mumps protection is slightly lower, cases in vaccinated people are much less severe, highlighting the importance of the MMR vaccination.