Measles outbreak prompts national vaccination catch-up program in UK

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Health officials in the UK have announced a national catch-up program to target 10-16 year olds who did not receive the combined measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination in early childhood due to fears about links with autism.

The announcement comes in the wake of a large outbreak of measles in Wales, which has so far affected a suspected (not all cases laboratory confirmed) 942 people in Mid and West Wales since November 2012, with the number of cases increasing dramatically from 288 at the end of March 2013 to 942 on 24th April.

A smaller outbreak across the North East and North West of England has also been seen in the first three months of 2013, with 175 and 179 laboratory confirmed cases in the two regions, respectively. These two regions account for most of the 587 cases of measles reported across England from January to March 2013, which are among the highest reported since enhanced surveillance began in 1994.

Government officials in England estimate that around 8% of 10-16 year olds (approximately one third of a million) in the country are unvaccinated and that the same number again are likely to need another MMR dose to gain full protection from the diseases. A similar number of children below and above this age range may also need further MMR vaccinations.

"Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so we are very disappointed that measles cases have recently increased in England," said Mary Ramsay (Public Health England) in a press statement. "The catch-up programme set out today recommends an approach to specifically target those young people most at risk."

She added: "The only way to prevent measles outbreaks, such as the one we are seeing in South Wales, is to ensure good uptake of the MMR vaccine across all age groups. Measles is not a mild illness - it is very unpleasant and can lead to serious complications as we have seen with more than 100 children in England being hospitalised so far this year."

The MMR autism scare that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, based on a research paper by Andrew Wakefield, has been completely discredited, but many children still remain unvaccinated.

David Salisbury (Department of Health, UK) told the press: "The safety record of MMR is not in doubt and the best thing that parents can do, if their children have not had two doses of MMR, is to make an appointment with the GP now."

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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