Pop-up clinics dishing out MMR jabs are being set up in schools in a push to boost vaccines as cases of measles surge.
The NHS has sent letters to parents of six to 11-year-olds in England urging them to make an appointment with their GP if their child has not had both doses.
They have also issued reminders to 1million people aged 11 to 25 in London and the West Midlands, the two epicentres of the outbreak, encouraging them to get jabbed if they have not already done so.
Low uptake of the MMR vaccine has triggered a resurgence of the illness, which can be deadly.
The downward trend has been blamed on the discredited Dr Andrew Wakefield, who falsely linked the MMR injection to autism in the 90s. A rise of anti-vaxx beliefs in the wake of Covid may have also fuelled the crisis, experts say.
Health leaders today warned there is a ‘very real risk’ of fresh outbreaks across the country and urged people to come forward for jabs as soon as possible.
Latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows there were 1,603 suspected measles cases in England and Wales in 2023. The figure is more than twice as high as the 735 logged in 2022 and an almost five-fold rise compared to the 360 cases reported in 2021
Cold-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough and a runny or blocked nose, are usually the first signal of measles. A few days later, some people develop small white spots on the inside of their cheeks and the back of their lips. The tell-tale measles rash also develops, usually starting on the face and behind the ears, before spreading to the rest of the body
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The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is given in two doses — at one year old, then three years and four months — that offer life-long protection.
However, more than 3.4million under-16s in England are not fully-jabbed.
Measles can be caught at any age and prove fatal. Complications include blindness, deafness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis).
One in five children who catch it will need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, according to estimates.
Analysis shows that if just one child in a classroom is infected, they can pass the virus on to up to nine other unvaccinated children, making it one of the most infectious diseases worldwide and more infectious than Covid.
If pregnant women become infected, the virus can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and a baby to have a low birth weight.
People who missed the jabs as part of the childhood vaccination schedule can catch up at any time by contacting their GP practice, which can also inform them if they have had both jabs already.
Some may also be able to check their status online or through the NHS app.
Due to the unprecedented outbreak, the NHS has also set up pop-up clinics to make it even easier for people to get vaccinated.
After both doses, 99 per cent of people are protected from measles.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data shows there were 1,603 suspected measles cases in England and Wales in 2023.
The figure is more than twice as high as the 735 logged in 2022 and an almost five-fold rise compared to the 360 cases reported in 2021.
Most cases have been logged in London and the West Midlands.
In the West Midlands, more than 300 cases have been identified since October. Up to 50 children have been hospitalised in the past month alone.
Eight in 10 cases were detected in Birmingham, while the remainder were in Coventry. Most cases were in children under 10.
The UKHSA last week labelled the situation a national incident, an internal mechanism signalling the growing public health risk.
At least 95 per cent of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks, under public health guidance.
MMR uptake in England was about 91 per cent prior to Dr Wakefield’s study in 1998, which linked MMR vaccination with autism diagnosis.
The flawed study was retracted and the medic was struck off over his false claims but MMR uptake plunged to 80 per cent in the following years.
Nationally, the proportion of five-year-olds who are fully jabbed stands at 84.5 per cent — the lowest in more than a decade.
This figure drops far lower in some areas with greater ethnic minority populations, to around 70 per cent, making them more susceptible to outbreaks.
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UKHSA, urged those born between 1998 and 2004 to check their vaccination status and turn to trusted sources, such as the NHS website, to avoid misinformation.
‘Clearly there is misinformation, and people look at different sources that they feel are trusted sources,’ Dr Harries said.
‘We would always direct people to the NHS website or the UKHSA one which is a trusted source of information.’
Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said: ‘People who are unvaccinated can get catch-up jabs at MMR pop-ups in schools and other convenient places while GPs, teachers and trusted community leaders are encouraging groups that are less likely to get their jab to come forward.
‘All this builds on the national MMR catch-up campaign the NHS rolled out at the beginning of winter, with text, email and letter reminders sent out to parents and guardians of children up to five who have yet to get full protection.
‘Measles is a serious illness, with one in five children who get the disease having to be admitted to hospital for treatment, so if you or your child have not had your MMR jab, it is vital you come forward.’
The NHS has provided no further details on whether the catch-up campaign will be pushed to 11 to 25-year-olds in other areas yet. Those in London and the West Midlands are expected to be contacted via text, emails and letters.
In England, 89.3 per cent of two-year-olds received their first dose of the MMR vaccine in the year to March 2023 (blue line), up from 89.2 per cent the previous year. Meanwhile, 88.7 per cent of two-year-olds had both doses, down from 89 per cent a year earlier
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More than 300 cases have been identified in the West Midlands since October. Birmingham Children’s Hospital (pictured) has also seen 50 children needing treatment for the virus in the last month
Cold-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough and a runny or blocked nose, are usually the first signal of measles.
A few days later, some people develop small white spots on the inside of their cheeks and the back of their lips.
The tell-tale measles rash then also develops, usually starting on the face and behind the ears, before spreading to the rest of the body.
Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, a consultant medical epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said: ‘The continuing downward trend in the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations is a serious concern.
‘The diseases that these vaccines protect against, such as measles, can be life-changing and even deadly.
‘No parent wants this for their child especially when these diseases are easily preventable. We now have a very real risk of measles outbreaks across the country.
‘Please don’t put this off, check now that your children are fully up to date with both MMR jabs and all their routine vaccines, and do take up the offer as soon as possible if you are contacted by your GP practice or the NHS for your child to catch up.’
Health Minister Maria Caulfield said: ‘Measles is a serious but entirely preventable disease.
‘The MMR vaccine is proven to be safe for youngsters and offers lifelong protection.
‘I’m urging everyone whose child is not yet fully vaccinated to come forward and get them protected as soon as possible.’
A woman, who had only received one dose of the MMR vaccine, last week told how she caught measles at 23 and is still only able to eat through a tube six years later.
Ellie Roscoe, from Harborne in Birmingham, never had her second vaccine in 1998 before starting school after Dr Wakefield linked the vaccine to autism.
The decision appeared to have no effect on her life until December 2017, when she suddenly broke out in red blotches and her temperature soared to 39C (102.2F).
It was only after being taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed with measles, that medics discovered the contagious infection had spread to her lungs and liver.
Now, aged 29, she still suffers with gastric problem that medics believe was triggered by the illness. She has urged Brits to get vaccinated and said a second ’30-second jab’ was worth it.
As well as Dr Wakefield fuelling contributing the anti-vaccination movement, experts have also blamed the Covid pandemic and GP pressures for a decline in uptake.
Dr Ben Kasstan-Dabush, an assistant professor in global health and development at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told MailOnline: ‘There is pandemic-related decline, issues of GP capacity and not only a reduction in health visitors but in many cases the responsibility for vaccination has been taken away from health visitors.
‘With that goes the opportunity to build trusted relationships and convenience — which are essential in areas of lower uptake and where the challenges are greatest.’