The new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has ordered urgent action to improve vaccination uptake after more than 230 cases of measles were reported in the UK during first quarter of 2019.
As part of the drive he will visit a hospital in the South West and lay out a number of measures designed to improve vaccination rates, including for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
The news comes as the UK has lost its ‘measles-free’ status with the World Health Organisation (WHO) – just three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.
A recent survey conducted by Unicef found that between 2010 and 2017, over half a million (527,000) children were not vaccinated in the UK with the first dose of the measles vaccine.
The number is part of a global figure of more than a staggering 20 million, and an average of 21.1 million children a year, and due to the lack of vaccinations, widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreaks hitting several countries around the world in recent months.
The drive is announced just months after it was also reported that European cases of measles have hit a ten-year high, with 32 cases confirmed across Greater Manchester, causing concern across the UK.
The WHO have stated that in the first six months of 2019 reported measles cases globally are almost three times as many as the same time last year, as well as becoming endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.
Announced action to renew efforts to meet 95% for both doses of MMR include NHS England writing to GPs urging them to promote ‘catch up’ vaccination programmes for MMR for 10-11 year olds, as well as all those 5-25 year olds who have not had two doses of the jab.
Johnson also announced that he wants to strengthen the role of local immunisation coordinators – healthcare professionals that promote vaccines particularly with hard-to-reach families. This includes supporting areas with low uptake and tailoring specific local interventions to under-vaccinated communities.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that vaccinations are “simple, easy and highly effective health interventions”, reminding the public that in most cases they “protect for life.”
She went on to explain that we are still “suffering from the now entirely debunked MMR scandal of the nineties, and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to serious, often life-threatening infectious diseases, such as measles, that we could have completely eradicated in this country if this had never happened.
"People who were not vaccinated as children need to understand that it is not too late to have their MMR jab and we would urge them to do so.”
The RCGP also “welcome that the Government is addressing the falling take-up of childhood vaccinations seriously”, but reminded that it is not just the responsibility of the GPs to combat anti-vaccination propaganda, but that “everyone has a part to play: health, public health and education bodies; but we also need technology companies to take responsibility and tackle negativity and confusion around vaccination information."
The plan comes as part of a wider government drive on prevention, following the publication of the Prevention Green Paper last month.