The Prime Minister has today urged healthcare teams to up their efforts in increasing the uptake of both doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to 95% across the UK.
Boris Johnson set out the ‘urgent action’ to be taken, including encouraging GPs to promote catch-up MMR jabs for patients who have not received two doses of the vaccine, to tackle the ‘small but steady’ decline in coverage in recent years.
It follows the news that the UK has lost its ‘measles-free’ status with the World Health Organisation just three years after the disease was officially eliminated from the country. Currently, 87% of children have received the second dose of the MMR jab, which has increased the spread of measles.
There were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK in the first quarter of 2019, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said. ‘Many of these cases were acquired abroad with some onward spread in under-vaccinated communities,’ it added.
In June, experts warned that although vaccine confidence is higher in the UK than the rest of Europe, it is still in a ‘vulnerable’ position as social media amplifies anxieties and mistrust.
Meanwhile, in March, a major new study confirmed once again that there is no link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
Actions to increase MMR jab uptake will include:
- NHS England writing to GPs urging them to promote ‘catch up’ vaccination programmes for patients who have not had two doses of the jab
- Strengthening the role of local immunisation coordinators, which are healthcare professionals that promote vaccines
- Addressing parents’ concerns about vaccines, including debunking misleading information, by updating the advice on NHS.uk
- Calling a summit of social media companies to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccinations
The DHSC, Public Health England and NHS England will also produce a strategy to tackle issue in the Autumn.
The strategy is expected to:
- Ask the NHS to use technology to identify and remind those who may have missed a vaccination and make booking appointments easier
- Look at improving GP capacity and asking NHS England to consider allowing vaccination to be given at locations outside of practices as part of the GP contract review
- Work with the Department for Education to look at ways that students are informed of vaccinations and encouraging them to critically assess misinformation spread online about certain vaccines
‘Determined to step up efforts’
Mr Johnson said: ‘After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we’ve now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year. One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.
‘This is a global challenge and there are a number of reasons why people don’t get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.
‘From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.’
Health system to come together
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘It’s easy to forget how devastating measles can be, precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place.
‘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.’
In May, the training provider PharmaDoctor announced it was letting all community pharmacies pre-order its free measles patient group direction (PGD), allowing them to offer private measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.