Boris Johnson has ordered urgent action to boost the number of children and young people receiving vaccinations following a rise in cases of measles. This comes after the UK lost its “measles-free” status due to the number of confirmed cases.
The prime minister will set out the plans to improve vaccination rates – including for the measles, mumps and rubella jab (MMR) – on a visit to a hospital in the South West on Monday. He has called for health leaders to renew their efforts to ensure 95% of the population have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.
Currently only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the jab, down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15, the lower uptake of which is thought to be partly behind the spread of measles, Downing Street said.
There were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK during the first quarter of 2019, and Britain has lost its “measles-free” status with the World Health Organisation (WHO) three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.
NHS England will write to all GPs urging them to promote “catch-up” vaccination programmes, and will seek to strengthen the role of local immunisation co-ordinators in a bid to improve uptake.
The government will also seek to update the advice on the NHS’s website to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines. Social media companies will also be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.
The Department for Health and Social Care will also deliver a strategy to address the issue in the autumn, in which the NHS is expected to be asked to use technology to identify who may have missed a vaccination and make booking appointments easier.
Ahead of the visit, 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.
“From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.”
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.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “Losing our measles-free status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated.
“Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak.”
Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk, Dr Ramsay added.