MMR vaccination rates in Kent and Medway fall as UKHSA declares ‘national incident’
The number of children in Kent and Medway getting an MMR jab has slumped – falling well below the target needed to eradicate measles.
With vaccination rates now at their lowest levels in England for more than a decade, the UK Health Security Agency has sounded the alarm and declared the issue a national incident.
It says measles cases will spread rapidly across more areas of the UK unless more people are vaccinated soon.
More than 200 cases have been confirmed in the West Midlands in recent months, mostly in Birmingham, while in some areas of London nearly half of all children remain unvaccinated.
For those needing their second dose at age five coverage drops to 85.2% in Kent and 82.5% in Medway. Both are well below the 95% World Health Organisation target that is needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination.
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that people had ‘forgotten what measles is like’.
She explained: “The focus this morning obviously is on the West Midlands and I’m going there, but I think the real issue is we need a call to action right across the country.
“We had established measles elimination status in the UK, but in fact our vaccination rates now have dropped on average to about only 85% of children arriving at school having had the two MMR doses.”
What is measles?
Measles is a highly contagious infection that spreads rapidly through coughs and sneezes.
It can also cause serious complications for some adults and children that catch it leading to hospitilisation and in the very worst cases, death.
Medics insist it is very unlikely that people will catch the disease if they’ve received the required two doses of the MMR jab.
What are its symptoms?
The first signs of measles are very similar to a cold and may include a high temperature, runny or blocked nose, sneezing, a cough and red watery eyes.
In some cases small white spots can also appear inside the mouth and on the inside of the cheeks and then the back of the lips a few days later.
A measles rash will then appear a few days after the cold-like symptoms. Usually starting on the face and behind the ears, it will then spread to the rest of the body with patches merging together to form blotchy red areas. The rash isn’t usually itchy.
If you think your child may have measles, NHS advice is to ask for an urgent GP appointment or to ring NHS 111 for help.
Anyone who hasn’t had both doses of the MMR jab, or who is pregnant, and who also thinks they’ve been in contact with someone who has measles should also contact their surgery for advice.
How do you get a vaccination?
Parents with small children are being encouraged to bring their children forward for immunisation when called by their surgery or local vaccination team.
Families can also check their children’s health records to ensure that they have received two doses of the jab – one at around two years old and then a second pre-school booster at around the age of five.
In London and Birmingham, pop-up clinics are also being set-up to encourage households in some areas to come forward when uptake rates remain worryingly low.
Speaking on the radio on Friday morning, Dr Jenny Harris added: “It’s quite common with vaccination programmes that when the risk is perceived to have gone away, then the concern to get vaccinated may drop off and so one of the reasons for flagging this today is to remind people that cases are still out there. This is a serious illness.”