Young infants appear to have a gap in their protection against measles, from around two to three months old until they are vaccinated at 12 months of age, finds new research published on bmj.com today.
This is because the level of antibodies infants get from their mother drops over time, leaving them susceptible until they are vaccinated.
These findings underline the importance of measles vaccination at around 12 months of age and support ongoing research into earlier vaccination.
The study involved 207 healthy woman-infant pairs recruited from five hospitals in the Province of Antwerp, Belgium from April 2006.
Medical records were used to divide women into two groups: those who had been vaccinated against measles during infancy and those with naturally acquired immunity from measles infection earlier in life.
The researchers found no significant impact of breastfeeding, birth weight, educational level, caesarean section or day care attendance on the duration of maternal antibodies.
This study describes a very early susceptibility to measles in both infants of vaccinated women and women with naturally acquired immunity, say the authors. If future studies show that measles vaccines can be offered with success at an age of less than nine months, policy makers could consider moving forward the routine measles vaccination programme.
For the moment, they suggest early vaccination should be considered during an outbreak or after contact with siblings with measles, and for infants travelling or migrating to endemic areas.
"Most importantly, we confirm the extreme importance of timely administration of the first dose of measles vaccine," they conclude.
"This is very interesting research, and hopefully will be acted upon. My concern, however, is with what is happening (or NOT happening) with the pre-school boosters. In our area, there is no longer a centralised system to call chldren up for their pre-school boosters (or perhaps it's just not working). I took my 4-year-old to our local surgery for his boosters, and was met with 'oh - yes, if you like', as if I was asking for something rather odd. Amongst his friends at nursery - all due to start school in 6 weeks - most had not heard about pre-school boosters, or had forgotten, and many are going to see their GP after I suggested their children should have been called for these injections. What about the children in Leeds who don't have an ex-Practice Nurse in the playground? A colleague tells me that there have been 3 cases of measles in their reception class this last year. So, by all means alter the age at which the first vaccine is given, but we have to get the whole programme right, and try to ensure its delivery, to prevent outbreaks across the country" - Laura, Leeds