Public health officials are urging parents to check their children are up to date with MMR vaccinations after signs of a rise in measles cases.

The latest figures from 1 January to 20 April this year show 49 cases of measles compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

Most of the cases have been reported in London, although some cases have been picked up across the country and some are linked to travel abroad, the data shows.

It follows a drop in the number of children who have had one or both doses of the MMR in recent years.

Uptake for the first dose of the MMR at two years in England is currently 89% and uptake of two doses by five years is 85% – both well below the 95% target set by the World Health Organization (WHO) to achieve and maintain elimination, the UKHSA said.

Routine childhood vaccinations fell globally during the pandemic and measles is now circulating in many countries around the world with WHO officials warning that Europe is likely to see a resurgence unless countries catch-up children who missed out.

Parents of young children and teenagers are being asked to check they are up to date with their MMR vaccines, particularly before they travel this summer or attend festivals and to contact their GP practice if they believe they have missed a dose.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: ‘We are calling on all parents and guardians to make sure their children are up to date with their two MMR doses.

‘It’s never too late to catch up, and you can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age.’

She added: ‘Measles spreads very easily and can lead to complications that require a stay in hospital and on rare occasions can cause lifelong disability or death, so it is very concerning to see cases starting to pick up this year.’

Figures published in September last year showed no routine childhood vaccination met the 95% uptake target last year in England.

But there has been particularly concern about MMR with catch up campaigns already launched last Autumn.

NHS director of vaccinations and screening, Steve Russell, said: ‘The MMR vaccine has helped prevent the development of potentially life-threatening illness among millions, and it is clear that when uptake falls, infections rise, so I strongly urge parents to review the status of their child’s vaccinations so they can keep them and others protected from measles, mumps and rubella.’

Recent figures show that the uptake of adolescent vaccines offered to young people in school year 9 is yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, with 7% fewer teenagers being vaccinated against meningococcal disease, diphtheria, tetanus and polio.

And Moderna director Stuart Carroll said that a change to the current vaccination model needed to be ‘looked at’ to increase accessibility and flexibility.

‘We need to have a delivery model which utilises the best of all healthcare professionals. Pharmacy is distinctly placed to do that because it is at the forefront of dealing with the public and patients, day in, day out,’ he said.

A version of this article first appeared on our sister publication, Pulse.