More than one in ten children at risk of catching deadly measles as vaccine rates fall

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·3-min read

By Amanda Killelea

a little sick girl is sitting near the bed
MMR vaccines are essential for children. (Getty Images)

More than one in ten children starting school in England is at risk of catching measles, health chiefs have warned, as vaccination rates slump to their lowest level for a decade.

The UK Health Security Agency has warned that many parents are not fully aware of the risks and complications from measles, which can be fatal.

Since the coronavirus pandemic there has been a drop in the number of children receiving their MMR vaccine, and health bosses are now urging parents to bring their children in for the jabs.

Read More: Measles threat grows as 22 million infants worldwide missed vaccine due to the coronavirus pandemic

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) estimates that one in ten children under the age of five haven't had the MMR vaccine or are only partially vaccinated.

Measles is a very contagious viral illness that used to be common in childhood but is now rare thanks to the success of the vaccination programme.

At first, the symptoms can be mild with a runny nose, cough, sore red eyes and a fever, which is followed a few days later by a rash that spreads over the body.

Most people recover after a week to 10 days, but on rare occasions, measles can lead to infection of the lining of the brain or spinal cord (meningitis) or the brain itself (encephalitis) which can lead to long-term disabilities or even death.

 Poster produced for the Health Education Council to encourage parents to inoculate their children against measles.  (Getty Images)
Poster produced for the Health Education Council to encourage parents to inoculate their children against measles. (Getty Images)

The measles vaccine was introduced in 1968, and it is estimated that 20 million cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK as a result.

A poll of 2,000 parents and guardians of under-fives, commissioned by UKHSA and the Department of Health and Social Care, found that 48 per cent were unaware that measles could lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and brain inflammation. Only 38 per cent were aware that measles could be fatal.

Children are offered 2 doses of the MMR vaccine by their GP, the first when they turn one and the second at around 3 years and 4 months, before they start nursery or school.

Lucy Butler,15, getting ready to have her measles jab at All Saints School in Ingleby Barwick, Teesside as part of a national vaccination catch-up campaign (Getty Images)
Lucy Butler,15, getting ready to have her measles jab at All Saints School in Ingleby Barwick, Teesside as part of a national vaccination catch-up campaign (Getty Images)

Read more: Coronavirus may trigger a measles resurgence as vaccinations are "paused"

Dr Vanessa Saliba, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: "The MMR vaccine offers the best protection from measles, mumps and rubella, which is why we’re calling on parents and carers to make sure their children are up to date with their 2 doses.

"Even a small drop in vaccine coverage can have a big impact on population immunity levels and lead to outbreaks.

"I would urge parents to check if their children are up to date with their MMR vaccines and if not to get them booked in as soon as they are able. It’s never too late to catch up.

Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and medical director for primary care at NHS England, said: "It is incredibly important that all parents and guardians ensure their child is up to date with their routine vaccinations, including MMR, as these vaccines give children crucial protection against serious and potentially deadly illnesses and stop outbreaks in the community.

"If your child has missed a vaccination, please contact your GP practice to book an appointment as soon as you can to make sure they have maximum protection against disease."

Watch: Doctors urge keeping up on kids' vaccines for preventable illnesses

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