bid to give measles 
 jab to 1m children

Around a million children and teenagers are to be targeted in a £20m national catch-up vaccination campaign aimed at curbing a rise in measles cases.

GP surgeries, schools and community programmes in England will be used to vaccinate children and young people who have not had either one or two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The scheme has been launched after new figures from Public Health England (PHE) revealed that there were 587 confirmed measles cases in the first three months of this year in England, more than three times the 168 cases in the same period of 2012.

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The highest regional total was in the North West at 179, followed by 175 in the North East.

Out of the total number of confirmed cases this year, nearly one in five – 20 per cent, or 108 cases – were admitted to hospital, with 15 of these experiencing complications such as pneumonia, meningitis and gastroenteritis.

The figures, if unchecked, put England on course for another record annual high in measles cases after 1,920 confirmed cases last year.

The rise comes in spite of the highest national MMR vaccination level being achieved in England with 94 per cent of five-year-olds receiving one dose and 90 per cent receiving two doses according to the latest PHE figures.

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The leap in the number of confirmed cases can mostly be attributed to the proportion of unprotected 10- to 16-year-olds who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early years of 2000 when fears about the discredited link between autism and the vaccine was widespread, according to public health experts.

Children are offered an MMR vaccine at 12 to 13 months, giving 95 per cent protection and then a second dose at around three-and-a-half-years-old which boosts this protection to 99 per cent.

An estimated one third of a million 10- to 16-year-olds who are unvaccinated will be made a “first priority” in the new campaign.

This will be followed by a further estimated third of a million children in this age group who need at least one further MMR jab to give them full protection and another estimated one third of a million children above and below this age group who need at least one further MMR vaccination.

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Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE head of immunisation, said: “We have this legacy of older children who were not vaccinated as toddlers and these young people are now secondary school age,” she said. “So they are now at the position where they can spread infection very effectively.”

Officials believe the most likely areas that could be hit by a serious outbreak would be London and the South and East where immunisation was historically not as high as in northern parts of the country.

The figures for England follow a measles outbreak in the south west Wales region where the number of people who have contracted the disease now stands at 886.

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said the situation in Swansea was a “wake-up call” for parents, adding “what happened and is continuing to happen in Swansea can happen anywhere in England”.

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“Whilst this may sound slightly odd, you can of course catch measles but you can’t catch up with measles – what I mean is that chasing measles is a forlorn exercise,” he said.

“You have to prevent measles and that means we need to get ahead before we have got large numbers of cases and large outbreaks occurring in England.”

He warned the disease spreads like “wildfire”, adding: “If you think your child has not had one or even two doses of MMR, for goodness sake contact your GP and get it sorted out.”

Measles, described as one of the most infectious diseases known to man, can lead to serious complications, including blindness and even death. It can cause miscarriage in pregnancy, still birth, or early delivery.

The virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.