Missed measles jabs public health time bomb


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Experts say children should have two doses of the measles vaccine to fully protect against the disease

More than half a million children in the UK were not given a crucial measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017, an analysis by charity Unicef reveals.

It comes as NHS chief Simon Stevens warned measles cases had almost quadrupled in just one year and urged families to get the vaccine.

He said people rejecting vaccines was a “growing public health time bomb”.

Globally, 169 million children missed out on the first dose of the vaccine over seven years, the report found.


Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can lead to serious health complications, including infections of the lungs, eyes and brain. In one in 25,000 cases, brain complications can be fatal.

Babies and children with weakened immune systems are most at risk of complications – more common ones include diarrhoea and vomiting, lung infections and fits caused by a fever.

Millions of lives worldwide have been saved by the measles vaccinations given to young children – but too many are still dying, the children’s charity Unicef says.

Health experts say children should have two doses of the vaccine to fully protect against the disease.

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In many countries, including the UK, the MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella (or German measles).

The first dose is given to babies around their first birthday and the second dose before starting school, when three to four years old.

Global problem

But, according to Unicef, a mixture of complacency, misinformation, scepticism about immunisations, and a lack of access to jabs has led to inadequate vaccination rates globally.

It estimates that between 2010 and 2017:

  • The US topped the list for the number of unvaccinated children in high-income countries, with 2,593,000 missing the first dose of the vaccine
  • The comparable figure for France was 600,000
  • The UK came third, with 527,000 children not getting their first dose of the vaccine over the seven-year period
  • In Nigeria, four million children under one did not get the first dose of the vaccine

The figures are based on Unicef and World Health Organization estimates of the number of children immunised against diseases in 194 countries in 2017.

Figures for the second dose of the measles vaccine “were even more alarming”, Unicef said.

It found 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had not introduced a second dose, putting more than 17 million infants a year at a greater risk of getting measles as a child.

In 2017, 85% of children worldwide were vaccinated with the first dose but only 67% with the second dose of the measles vaccine, Unicef says.

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Media caption“My daughter’s life was destroyed by measles”

‘Wake-up call’

Henrietta Fore, executive director at Unicef, said: “The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children.

“If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”

Prof Beate Kampmann, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, described the figures as a “wake-up call.”

She said: “One thing is certain though: A single person with measles will be able to infect 90 other people who are not immune.

“Measles is highly infectious, even before the typical rash appears, so you cannot simply ‘keep away’.

“We must protect children and communities against this potentially very serious but entirely preventable infectious disease – and the only way to do that is through vaccination.”

Public Health England said though the overall risk to the public in England was low, unimmunised people were in danger of catching the disease while outbreaks continued in Europe.

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Media captionWhy has there been a measles outbreak in Europe?

Ukraine, Madagascar and India have been worst affected by the disease so far this year, with tens of thousands of reported cases per million people.

Outbreaks have also hit Brazil, Pakistan and Yemen, while a spike in case numbers has been reported in the US and Thailand.

In Greater Manchester, more cases have been recorded this year than in the whole of the previous two years combined.

NHS chief Simon Stevens has warned that “vaccination deniers” have been gaining traction on social media, leading to the spread of misleading information.

The Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, has called for new legislation to force social media companies to remove content promoting false information about vaccines.

Have you been affected by this? Has either you or your child contracted measles? haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk

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