The UK has lost its World Health Organization ‘measles-free’ status

By | August 19, 2019
Vaccination rates have been declining in the UK

Vaccination rates have been declining in the UK

Owen Humphreys/PA Wire/PA Images

Three years after the measles virus was eliminated from the UK, the country has lost its “measles-free” status with the World Health Organization, following 231 confirmed cases of the infection in the first quarter of 2019.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for health leaders to renew their efforts to ensure 95 per cent of the population have had two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Current data suggests only 87.2 per cent of children receive the second dose of the vaccine, down from a high of 88.6 per cent during the 2014 to 2015 period.

“Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak,” says Mary Ramsay, of the government agency Public Health England. “Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.”

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To improve vaccination rates, NHS England will write to all GPs urging them to promote “catch-up” vaccination programmes. The body will also look at strengthening the role of local immunisation co-ordinators, in a bid to improve uptake of the vaccine.

Misinformation on social media

There are also plans to update advice on the NHS website to specifically address misleading information about vaccines. Social media companies are expected to be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.

Later this year, the NHS is expected to be asked to find technological solutions to identify who may have missed a vaccination, and to make booking appointments easier, as part of a new strategy developed by the Department for Health and Social Care.

“From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain,” said Johnson.

The junior health minister Jo Churchill told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme today that the NHS and UK government need to work with social media companies so that “misinformation is taken down, and that we give people the correct information that they can help keep their children safe”.

She said the government is working to make sure there are no shortages of drugs, including measles vaccines, following Brexit. “On the measles vaccine, there are buffer stocks in place and I don’t see any issue with supply.”

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