Warning amid measles outbreak in Kent

by Caitlin Webb, local democracy reporter

Public Health England has confirmed there have been 42 cases of measles in Kent since the beginning of this year.

The head of public health at Kent County Council says the outbreak is due to the amount of children having measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, being below the national target.

He believes this could be a result of misinformation and worries about the links between the injections and autism.

To ensure the entire population is protected against these preventative infections, there is a target of 95% of children to receive both the initial jab following their first birthday and the booster when they start school.

Public Health England has confirmed there have been 42 cases of measles in Kent since the start of this year
Public Health England has confirmed there have been 42 cases of measles in Kent since the start of this year

At the beginning of the summer, KCC head of public health Andrew Scott-Clarke addressed parents' fears and advised teenagers to double-check they have had their full treatment before heading abroad for festivals.

The latest data published by Public Health England, shows only 86% of five-year-olds in Kent and Medway received their second MMR dose from January to March this year.

Andrew Scott-Clarke said: "There are some ongoing cases of measles that we are seeing sporadically across the community.

"These are mostly linked with outbreaks in other areas of the country and in east Europe and Italy."

Figures from the World Health Organisation show more than 41,000 people in Europe have been infected since January, resulting in 37 deaths.

Cases of measles in Europe have hit a record high, according to the World Health Organisation
Cases of measles in Europe have hit a record high, according to the World Health Organisation

Scientists have confirmed 828 cases in England over the same timeframe, including 169 in the south east.

Mr Scott-Clarke added: "The evidence shows that MMR vaccine does not cause autism.

"The correlation is you are giving MMR jabs at about the same time as you are going to diagnose autism, so it's a temporal relationship but not a causal relationship."

Public health expert at the council, Dr Allison Duggal added, at the last public health cabinet committee meeting in June, refuted claims from certain cultures which "believe having an illness as a baby makes you stronger".

Public health expert, Dr Allison Duggal, said: "It is a choice in this country and there is a principle of informed consent for any treatment.

"Some countries have compulsory immunisation but we have never gone down that route.

Measles is highly infectious and spreads by droplets in coughs and sneezes. The infection lasts seven to 10 days. But while most people recover completely, it can cause some serious complications.
Measles is highly infectious and spreads by droplets in coughs and sneezes. The infection lasts seven to 10 days. But while most people recover completely, it can cause some serious complications.

"There has been some misinformation about what the consequences of MMR might be, with links to autism and people having worries about mercury.

"There have been many studies on this - not just in Britain but in the US - and the World Health Organisation makes recommendations on this as well.

"The work that was done regarding the links between MMR and autism has been debunked and we know there were issues with the study methodology."

Cllr Sarah Hamilton (Con) said: "I think it would be a very sad day if it became compulsory because I'm a great believer in choice and informed choice.

"I think perhaps parents are not given enough information about making that judgement."

She added children can still get the illness despite having the vaccine, but Dr Duggal replied this is usually due to the child not having their second dose when they start school.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England (PHE), said: "In the early 2000s there was a fall in MMR vaccination coverage in children and as a consequence, we are now seeing measles cases in young adults.

"Measles can be more serious in adults with a higher likelihood of hospitalisation and complications arising.

"Measles is circulating in England and the rest of Europe.

"We often think about what travel-related vaccines we might need before going on holiday, but it’s also important to check that we are up to date with routine vaccinations like MMR.

"If you are unsure if you have had two doses of MMR call your GP practice to check and catch up if needed."

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