The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and the NHS are calling on parents and guardians to ensure their children are up to date with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and all other routine childhood immunisations, as the latest data shows MMR vaccination uptake has dropped to the lowest level in a decade.
In a new campaign drive, parents and guardians are being reminded that during the pandemic, the NHS has continued to provide routine childhood immunisations and they are crucial in protecting children against preventable diseases.
Since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in March 2020, there has been a significant drop in the numbers getting their children vaccinated against MMR and other childhood vaccines at the right time.
Coverage of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in 2 year olds has dropped below 90%. Coverage for the 2 doses of MMR vaccine in 5 year olds in England is currently 85.5%, well below the 95% World Health Organization’s (WHO) target needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination. This means that more than 1 in 10 children under the age of 5 are not fully protected from measles and are at risk of catching it.
Measles is highly contagious so even a small decline in MMR uptake can lead to a rise in cases. As international travel resumes, it is more likely that measles will be brought in from countries that have higher levels of the disease and so it is important that we recover MMR vaccination rates to help prevent a rise in cases.
Measles can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain which require hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long term disability or death.
Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968 it is estimated that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK.
New research commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and UKHSA, conducted by Censuswide, shows that many parents are not aware of the risks measles poses to their unvaccinated children.
Out of 2,000 parents and guardians of children aged 5 and under:
- almost half (48%) are not aware that measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation
- only 4 in 10 (38%) are aware measles can be fatal
- more than half of parents (56%) are not aware that 2 doses of the MMR vaccine gives 99% protection against measles and rubella
Children are offered 2 doses of the MMR vaccine by their registered GP surgery, the first when they turn one and the second at around 3 years and 4 months, before they start nursery or school.
The NHS has continued to prioritise routine vaccinations throughout the pandemic, however, some parents who haven’t had their child vaccinated against MMR said this was because they didn’t realise the NHS was still offering appointments, or they didn’t want to burden the NHS.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said:
The MMR vaccine offers the best protection from measles, mumps and rubella, which is why we’re calling on parents and carers to make sure their children are up to date with their 2 doses.
Even a small drop in vaccine coverage can have a big impact on population immunity levels and lead to outbreaks.
I would urge parents to check if their children are up to date with their MMR vaccines and if not to get them booked in as soon as they are able. It’s never too late to catch up.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said:
It is incredibly important that all parents and guardians ensure their child is up to date with their routine vaccinations, including MMR, as these vaccines give children crucial protection against serious and potentially deadly illnesses and stop outbreaks in the community.
If your child has missed a vaccination, please contact your GP practice to book an appointment as soon as you can to make sure they have maximum protection against disease.
Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup said:
Measles is highly contagious and can be dangerous, and it is very concerning to see falling levels of uptake for the MMR vaccine. It is absolutely crucial we make sure our children are fully protected against measles, mumps and rubella with both doses of the jab.
We have all seen the incredible power of vaccines during the pandemic – they have helped us turn the tide and live with COVID-19 without restrictions.
Parents and guardians – if you are unsure whether your child has had their full course of the MMR vaccine, check their Red Book or talk to your GP. The vaccine is safe, it will protect your child and their school friends and is very easy to access.
Parents who are unsure if their child is up to date with all their routine vaccinations should check their child’s Red Book (personal child health record) in the first instance.
If you are still not sure, or if you need to bring your child up to date with their vaccines, contact your GP practice to check and book an appointment. To find out more about the MMR vaccine.