The Government must make the measles jab available from pharmacies, MPs have said.
An NHS vaccine catch-up campaign is being rolled out at GP surgeries and pop-up clinics to tackle falling uptake rates that have led to a measles outbreak in the West Midlands and London.
But the Government’s health select committee questioned why pharmacies were not also being used to deliver routine vaccinations like the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) jab, which was a recommendation it made in July last year as part of a report that “should have been a wake-up call”.
Steve Brine MP, chairman of the health committee, asked Maria Caulfield, the Health Minister, if she would commit to “a much more flexible delivery model” during an urgent question on the outbreak in the House of Commons.
Mr Brine recounted that the UK Health Security Agency, which declared a national incident last Tuesday, had said it was “expecting measles to come back” in April last year.
“Can the minister say more about how she will inject more urgency into this [vaccine] rollout and will she commit, as we also asked for, a much more flexible delivery model for vaccinations, including through pharmacy?” he asked.
Ms Caulfield admitted the Government needed “to be more nimble” and said it was working with local teams in the Midlands and London to find out “what resources they need in order to become more nimble”.
There have been more than 300 confirmed or probable cases of measles in the West Midlands since October, with the majority in Birmingham, and doctors have said children are arriving at hospital with the disease every day.
Ms Caulfield told the Commons there were “vaccine buses going into communities, pop-up clinics in schools and GPs putting on extra vaccine clinics”.
She said “the real barrier to [uptake] is people’s reluctance to get vaccinated for a variety of reasons”, citing post-Covid vaccine fatigue, concerns about the contents of the vaccine among Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as the spread of misinformation.
Ms Caulfield said they were “undoing the damage” of disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield’s discredited report, which falsely linked the MMR vaccine to autism, and “put off a huge cohort” of now young adults.
“We do have non-porcine vaccines available,” she said of those concerned about the vaccine containing gelatin from pork.
“Priorix is available not just on request, it is being proactively pushed out to communities.
“We also know that there’s a Halal vaccine available, again we need to get that message out so people don’t have to request it, it should be routinely offered to them.”
More than one million people aged 11 to 25 across the West Midlands and London are being invited to get missed MMR jabs.
The NHS is also inviting all children aged six to 11 years old in England to get their MMR vaccinations if they have missed either one or both doses. Parents of these children will be asked to book in with their GP practice for the jab.
Fewer than 85 per cent of people in England have had both doses, latest figures show, which is significantly lower than the 95 per cent the World Health Organisation recommends.