Measles vaccine to be offered at pop-up clinics in London schools as cases surge

Parents have been urged to book their children in for an MMR vaccine amid a rise in measles cases (PA Archive)
Parents have been urged to book their children in for an MMR vaccine amid a rise in measles cases (PA Archive)

Tens of thousands of London parents were on Monday urged to book their children in for the MMR vaccine through pop-up clinics at schools as health officials warned of a “very real” risk of measles outbreaks across the country.

A new NHS England campaign will target all parents of children aged six to 11 in areas of low vaccine uptake, including London and the West Midlands.

The health service will also write to more than one million people aged 11 to 25 in both regions to remind them to get their missed MMR vaccine - the first ever vaccination-catch up programme for adults.

It comes after the UK Health Security Agency raised the alarm over a surge in measles cases in the West Midlands. Last July, health officials predicted that low vaccination rates in London could lead to an outbreak of up to 160,000 cases.

The latest figures show that the number of measles cases in London has trebled in a year. A total of 104 confirmed cases were reported in the capital between January and November last year, a rise of 188 per cent on the figure recorded in 2022.

Measles spreads very easily and can cause serious health problems, including meningitis and pneumonia. It usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed by a rash a few days later.

The MMR vaccine is given to children to protect against measles, mumps and rubella as part of the NHS routine vaccination schedule. Children receive their first dose aged 1, and their second dose aged 3 years and 4 months.

However, the latest data shows that just 72.8 per cent of children in the capital had received both doses of the MMR vaccine by the age of five in September 2023 – by far the lowest proportion in the country.

Only six in ten children in Hackney have been fully vaccinated – the lowest proportion of any local authority in the country.

Kirsten Watters, director of health and wellbeing at Camden Council, said that mobile vaccination clinics would be set up in the area to provide vaccinations.

Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said the health service “is acting quickly to tackle the spread of measles”.

“People who are unvaccinated can get catch-up jabs at 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,” he added.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, consultant medical epidemiologist at the UKHSA, added: “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 their 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.”

The World Health Organisation says that at least 95 per cent of the population should be vaccinated against measles to prevent it from spreading as it is so highly transmissible.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine among children born in 1998 onwards fell after the publication of a discredited report by Andrew Wakefield linking the vaccine to autism.

The claims have been discredited and Wakefield struck off the medical register but there have been lasting effects in vaccine uptake rates.