The UK has lost its ‘measles-free’ status after more than 250 cases of measures were reported during the first quarter of 2019. Now Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered urgent action to improve vaccination uptake.
Johnson visited a hospital in South Wales this week to lay out several measured design to improve vaccination rates – including for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
Although uptake for vaccination exceeds 90% for most childhood immunisations in the UK, there has been a small but steady decline in coverage in recent years.
This has led to the UK losing its ‘measles-free’ status with the World Health Organisation (WHO) just three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.
The WHO have stated that in the first six months of 2019 reported measles cases globally are almost three times as many as the same time last year.
Measles is now endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.
Johnson has now called for health leaders to renew their efforts to meet 95% for both doses of MMR.
Currently just 87% of children are getting their second dose of the jab, which has likely contributed to the spread of measles.
“With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations – especially for our children – and this time we will eliminate measles for good,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Measles elimination status means that the virus is no longer circulating permanently in a country.
The UK achieved measles-free status in 2016 after three years of limited spread due to high vaccination rates, but measles has since been spreading slowly in the UK for over 12 months.
Head of Immunisation at Public Health England Dr Mary Ramsay said: “Losing our ‘measles-free’ status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated. Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine.
“Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak. Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.
“Making it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life is a priority for us, DHSC and for NHS England.
“Through our Value of Vaccines campaign, we’ll be using all opportunities to remind people to get two doses of MMR vaccine – whether that’s new parents, school children or younger adults. This will be crucial to the UK achieving elimination status again in future.”