Anyone who has not been vaccinated or who has a child who missed a dose of the MMR vaccine should see their GP about catching up in the light of widespread measles outbreaks in Europe, Public Health England is warning.
PHE is particularly concerned about families and students who are likely to travel to Europe as the summer approaches, which is when cases of measles rose in the UK last year. Experts warn that measles is not a trivial disease. It can kill those with weak immune systems, while complications can include meningitis, encephalitis and eye damage.
The latest report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control shows 1,548 cases of the highly infectious disease in April. The numbers continued to increase compared with the previous two months and were highest in France, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Germany.
There were 231 cases of measles in England in the first three months of the year, says PHE. It is calling on parents to make sure babies are taken for their first MMR jab, which is usually around their first birthday, and the second dose after the age of three, before starting school.
Teenagers should be sure they were vaccinated and get another shot if there is doubt. People born between 1998 and 2004 may have missed one or both shots during the alarm caused by a paper published by gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield in the Lancet, which suggested a now discredited link between MMR and autism.
“Measles can kill and it is incredibly easy to catch, especially if you are not vaccinated. Even one child missing their vaccine is one too many – if you are in any doubt about your child’s vaccination status, ask your GP, as it’s never too late to get protected,” said Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE’s head of immunisation.
“There are measles outbreaks happening across Europe, so if you are planning to travel, make sure you check with your GP and catch up if needed.”
“Over 30 years ago we introduced the MMR vaccine, and since then our world-leading vaccination programme is estimated to have prevented 1.8m painful and potentially fatal cases of measles,” said the public health minister, Seema Kennedy. “The vaccine was an enormous catapult for improving the health of children and young people, and still is. No child or young person should have to suffer from mumps, measles or rubella, and we must curb this recent increase in cases so we don’t see a return of horrible diseases of the past.”
England has not escaped the global increase in measles cases, said Prof Helen Bedford of the Great Ormond Street institute of child health at UCL. “Luckily, we have ready access to a free, highly effective and safe means of stopping ongoing outbreaks in their tracks: the MMR vaccine. Most toddlers have had their MMR vaccine, but many people, particularly teenagers and young adults, in whom the disease is often more serious, have been left unimmunised.
“If you are unvaccinated or in doubt about whether you are protected, contact your GP practice. Vaccination only takes a few minutes but will protect you from a nasty disease which could result in life-changing complications or even death. One dose of vaccine is good, but two are better for best protection.”