The UK Health Security Agency has warned that a measles outbreak of between 40,000 and 160,000 cases could occur in London due to lower levels of vaccination coverage.
So far this year, there have been 128 cases of measles across all regions of the UK – over double the total amount for the whole of last year, when 54 cases were reported. And 66% of this year’s cases have been found in London.
In response, NHS England has launched a campaign encouraging people to check their vaccination status, while children in London are being offered a catch-up measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination at school.
The MMR vaccination is part of the NHS Routine Childhood Immunisation Programme, but in some groups and areas of London, just 69.5% of two-year-olds have had the first dose.
This means that by the time they start school, around 20% of children in London are unprotected against measles, compared to 10% in England as a whole.
All children at primary school who have missed one or both of their MMR doses will be contacted by the NHS school immunisation service with the opportunity to get up to date at school, the UKHSA has said.
Meanwhile, it also urged parents of younger children or those who are home-schooled to make an appointment with their GP practice or visit a community clinic.
And it asked anyone of any age who had not received the MMR vaccination to come forward, particularly if they were travelling overseas this summer.
It warned of a high risk of cases linked to overseas travel, leading to outbreaks in specific population groups such as young people and under-vaccinated communities.
In particular, it said that 19- to 25-year-olds were particularly susceptible as some may have not received vaccination as a child due to concerns around the vaccine in the early 2000s based on a study by Andrew Wakefield which was found to be unfounded, and some may still not be fully vaccinated as adults.
And it added that low vaccination rates over several years had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The World Health Organization recommends that 95% of the population are vaccinated against measles to prevent outbreaks and to protect vulnerable groups or those that cannot have the vaccination, such as children under one.
Jane Clegg, regional chief nurse for the NHS in London, said that GPs were calling 10,000 parents of unvaccinated children, and hundreds were booking appointments to get vaccinated as a result.
And she urged those with questions or concerns to contact their GP or local pharmacist for advice.
‘Now’s the time to act to protect yourself and loved ones from measles,’ she added.
Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist added: ‘Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to complications especially in young children and those with weakened immune systems. Due to longstanding sub-optimal vaccine uptake, there is now a very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London.’
She reiterated the importance of being fully vaccinated, especially before travelling overseas this summer, and added: ‘Nobody wants to see their child or loved ones sick with measles, or put others who are more vulnerable, like babies, at risk. I urge those who have missed their MMR vaccines to catch-up now.’