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Million offered MMR jabs in Midlands in catch-up campaign

More than 50 children are known to have been hospitalised with measles since December in Birmingham
More than 50 children are known to have been hospitalised with measles since December in Birmingham - LINSEY WASSON/REUTERS

People born the year after a now-discredited study prompted a vaccine scare have been urged to get missed jabs amid an ongoing measles outbreak.

More than one million people aged 11 to 25 across the measles-hit west Midlands and London are being invited to get missed mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) jabs.

It is the first ever NHS vaccination-catch up campaign targeting adults as well as children.

Uptake among children born in 1998 onwards waned following the publication that year of research claiming links between the vaccine and autism by discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield.

The paper was later found to have used falsified data and Wakefield was struck off.

First-dose vaccination rates fell from 91.5 per cent in 1997 to a record low of 79.9 per cent in 2004. This was followed by another record-low second-dose uptake of 72.8 per cent in 2007.

Many of these children are now older teenagers and young adults and have been urged by health officials to get both jabs now if they haven’t had them amid the worst outbreak of the disease since the mid-1990s.

Both doses are required to receive life-long protection against measles.

There have been at least 216 cases in the west Midlands and a further 103 “probable” cases since October 1, with four in five of these occurring in Birmingham where vaccine uptake is particularly low – just 75 per cent are fully protected.

More than 50 children are known to have been hospitalised since December in Birmingham, which is more admissions than across the entire NHS in any year since before the pandemic.

Swathes of London also have low levels of protection with the borough of Hackney having the lowest rates of any local authority in the country at just 56 per cent.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) last week warned there was a “very real risk” the virus spreads to other inner-city areas with low immunisation levels.

People will be able to get their catch-up jabs at school pop-up clinics or GP practices, the NHS said.

Tackling the spread

The health service 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.

Children typically receive their first dose at 12 months and the second at three years and four months before starting school.

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

“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.”

Mr Russell added: “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 said the disease can be “serious at any age” and warned women that if it is caught during pregnancy “it can be very serious causing stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight” as leaders urged “young adults to catch up on any missed doses before thinking about starting a family”.

Measles is a potentially life-threatening and highly infectious disease which can lead to lung infections and inflammation of the brain. It can also damage and suppress the immune system, meaning children can be more vulnerable to becoming ill, according to the NHS.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA consultant medical epidemiologist said the “continuing downward trend in the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations is a serious concern”

“We now have a very real risk of measles outbreaks across the country,” he said. “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.”

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