Coverage for both doses of the MMR vaccine in five-year-olds in England is nearly 10 percentage points below the WHO target, new data has shown.
The figures, published today by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), indicate that only 85.5% have received a full course. The UKHSA said this was ‘well below’ the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 95% target needed to sustain measles elimination and is the lowest uptake in a decade.
The data shows that more than one in 10 children under age 5 are at risk of catching measles, while coverage of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in two-year-olds has dropped below 90%.
The data comes as the NHS and UKHSA launch a campaign reminding parents and guardians to ensure their children are up to date with MMR vaccine, and all other routine childhood immunisations.
While general practice has continued to prioritise routine vaccinations throughout the pandemic, the UKHSA reported that around 10% of parents were not aware these services had continued.
A survey of 2,000 parents of children aged five and under, commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and UKHSA, revealed that 48% of parents are not aware that measles can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation.
And a third of parents who expressed worries about the MMR vaccine cited concerns around MMR side effects as a reason.
Despite this, over a third (36%) of parents feel vaccinations have ‘never been more important’ in helping prevent the spread of infections and viruses.
Commenting on the findings on Twitter, Professor Helen Bedford, a child health academic, urged families to talk to their practice nurse, health visitor and GP to catch up on MMR vaccinations.
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said it is ‘incredibly important’ that children are up to date with their routine vaccinations.
She urged parents and guardians to contact their GP practice as soon as possible if their child has missed a vaccination.
Similarly, vaccines minister Maggie Throup advised parents to contact their GP if they are unsure whether their child has had their full course of the MMR vaccine or not
Meanwhile, Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘Even a small drop in vaccine coverage can have a big impact on population immunity levels and lead to outbreaks.’
Measles is highly contagious so even a small decline in MMR uptake can lead to a rise in cases.
It can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain which require hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long term disability or death.
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