PM orders 'urgent' action to boost MMR vaccination rates

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With the news that the UK has lost its measles-free status, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out measures to increase vaccination rates.

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Boris Johnson has set out a number of measures to increase the take-up rate of the MMR vaccination

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed the UK has lost its measles-free status, three years after the virus was eliminated. 

In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK. 

The WHO said in the first six months of 2019 reported measles cases globally were almost three times as many as the same time last year. Measles is now endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.

While confidence in the UK’s vaccination programme remains high, with uptake exceeding 90 per cent for most childhood immunisations, there has been a small but steady decline in coverage in recent years.

Boris Johnson will lay out a number of measures designed to improve vaccination rates, including for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), and call for health leaders to renew their efforts to meet 95 per cent take-up for both doses of MMR. 

Currently, just 87 per cent of children are getting their second dose of the vaccine.

Actions proposed by the Prime Minister include:

  • NHS England to write to GPs urging them to promote ‘catch up’ vaccination programmes for MMR for ten- to 11-year-olds, as well as all those five- to 25-year-olds who have not had two doses of the jab
  • Strengthening the role of local immunisation co-ordinators who promote vaccines with hard-to-reach families and tailoring specific local interventions to under-vaccinated communities
  • Addressing parents’ concerns about vaccines by updating the advice on NHS.uk to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines
  • Calling a summit of social media companies to discuss how they can help promote accurate information about vaccination
  • The Department for Health and Social Care to work with Public Health England and NHS England to deliver a comprehensive strategy to address the issue in the Autumn.
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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.’

Health secretary Matt Hancock added, ‘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.’

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said, ‘It’s a shocking indictment that the UK has now lost its measles-free status. Labour has long warned of falling vaccination rates – now at a six-year low, having fallen in consecutive years – and missing the World Health Organisation target, while the Tories continued to cut public health budgets, watch health visitor numbers fall and pile more pressure on overstretched family doctors.

‘We need also serious action on falling vaccination rates including an enforced duty of care for social media to prevent anti-vaccination propaganda.’

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