Measles resurgence: UK authorities urge parents to vaccinate children amid rise in cases

Doctors in the UK are urging parents to get their babies vaccinated against measles, amid an "alarming rise" in cases.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there was a 30-fold increase in cases of measles across Europe from 941 cases in 2022 to 30,000 cases in 2023.

The increase in the number of cases is compounded by the hospitalisation of 21,000 people and five measles-related deaths.

In England, there have been 245 confirmed cases of measles this year, with 71 per cent in the West Midlands and 13 per cent in London.

The National Health Service (NHS) in England says more than 3.4 million children aged under 16 are unprotected and at risk of becoming ill.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease caused by a virus that can lead to severe complications such as meningitis, hearing loss, and even death.

Doctors say the view of measles being a trivial illness is a serious misconception with complacency about it leading to a drop in the number of vaccinations.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective and safest way to prevent the disease, experts say.

“We've got lots of campaigns going around. We've got posters around about measles and why it's important to vaccinate and every parent has a little red book. And now presently NHS England is sending out texts to all parents,” said Shiraaz Ebrihim, senior practice nurse at NHS Springhill Practice.

“Most of our parents have vaccinated their children, but there's a few pockets here and there, who haven't but we're working on those and we're sort of actively involved in ringing them and reminding them, or when they come in, opportunistically, we remind them.”

According to the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA), 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated to contain the spread of measles, but levels have fallen sharply.

Some boroughs in London are particularly under-vaccinated.

“We are far off in a couple of boroughs, in particular in London, so Hackney and Camden have low uptake, as low as around 56 per cent. So that's why we're particularly focussed on these areas to try and increase coverage,” said Dr Tehseen Khan, clinical advisor on vaccinations at NHS London.

According to Khan, parents don’t vaccinate children for several reasons.

Some are working two jobs and don’t have the time to take their children to receive a vaccine, others may be suspicious of the vaccine, while some don’t realise how serious measles can be for youngsters.

“We have community clinics. We have Sunday clinics, to make it more accessible for people to come forward for parents to bring their children at times that are more suitable for them, really trying to get as much communication out there together with our community champions and really try and get the message around vaccinations being safe and the best way to protect children and families,” Khan said.

One person with measles can on average infect another 15 to 20 people, according to the NHS.

The double-dose vaccine is most effective when the first dose is given to babies aged 1, and the second dose at 3 years and 4 months.

For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.