A national catch-up programme to increase MMR vaccination uptake in children and teenagers has been announced today by Public Health England, NHS England and the Department of Health.
With cases on the rise in the North West, the aim of the programme is to prevent measles outbreaks by vaccinating as many unvaccinated and partially vaccinated 10-16 year olds as possible in time for the next school year.
New figures published today by Public Health England show high numbers of confirmed measles cases in England in the first three months of 2013, reaching 587 by end of March, following a record annual high of almost 2,000 cases in 2012.
Cases are distributed across England, with the highest totals in the North West and North East where there have been outbreaks of the disease.
In line with trends across the country, the number of cases of measles has continued to rise in Cumbria and Lancashire. During the first three months of 2013, 80 cases were confirmed following a total of 159 cases in 2012.
Experts believe the rise in measles cases can be mostly attributed to the proportion of unprotected 10-16 year olds, who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s when concern around the discredited link between autism and the vaccine was widespread. After many years of low vaccination uptake, measles became re-established in 2007.
The catch-up programme announced today sets out a national framework within which local teams in Cumbria and Lancashire, (made up of NHS Lancashire and NHS Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, working alongside Directors of Public Health in Local Government and supported by the Cumbria & Lancashire PHE Centre), will produce tailored local plans to identify and give MMR to un-vaccinated and partially vaccinated 10-16 year olds through GPs and/or school programmes.
Dr Jane Rossini, PHE Cumbria & Lancashire Centre Director, said: “Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so it is very disappointing that cases have recently increased in the Cumbria & Lancashire area. The catch-up programme set out today recommends an approach to specifically target those young people most at risk. Those who have not been vaccinated should urgently seek at least one dose of MMR vaccination which will give them 95 per cent protection against measles. A second dose is then needed to provide almost complete protection.
“The only way to prevent measles outbreaks is to ensure good uptake of the MMR across all age groups, and that when cases are reported, immediate public health action is taken to protect vulnerable individuals as soon as possible. Measles is not a mild illness - it is very unpleasant and can lead to serious complications as we have seen with more than 100 children in England being hospitalised so far this year.
“It is never too late to get vaccinated against measles. Parents of unvaccinated children, teenagers and young adults who have missed out on MMR should urgently arrange to be vaccinated by their GP. If you are unsure whether you or your child has had two doses of the vaccine, speak to your GP who will have a record.”
• To support the national programme, a new Facebook page has been launched (www.facebook.com/getvaccinatedEngland) in conjunction with NHS Choices
• More information on the MMR catch-up programme is available on the PHE website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england/series/MMR-catch-up-programme-2013
• For more information on measles and MMR, please visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/Measles/measles/MMR or http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Measles/Pages/Introduction.aspx