The £20m catch-up programme will target about 300,000 children aged 10-16 years who have not received the MMR vaccine, in a bid to halt the continuing outbreak. A further 700,000 children require a second dose for full protection.
Hundreds of cases of measles have been reported in England and Wales in recent months. Officials have blamed the outbreak – the largest since the current monitoring system began in 1994 – on now discredited claims that linked MMR and autism.
Unprotected children are being invited for vaccination in England, Wales and Scotland.
LMCs said further outbreaks were ‘inevitable’ and had the potential to place real strain on primary care at a time of rising workload.
The RCGP’s immunisation lead said that practices might need to run MMR jab clinics on Saturdays.
GPs will be at the forefront of the campaign, which will be organised in England by Public Health England (PHE), NHS England area teams, local authorities and GP practices.
The programme will take place over the next five months, ahead of the start of the new school year in September. An awareness campaign will also urge young people to visit their GP to be vaccinated, and there will be a long-term plan to improve vaccine uptake.
GP leaders were negotiating with NHS England to determine GPs’ exact role and funding as GP went to press.
GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said he was pleased the programme had been launched: ‘For it to be successful, PHE, local authorities, NHS England and GPs need to work together. This is the first big test for integrated working between these organisations since the NHS was restructured and it is important that we make it a success.’
Londonwide LMCs medical director Dr Tony Grewal told GP it was ‘only a matter of time’ before measles hits the capital. ‘The only question is when, how severe will it be and how we’re going to deal with it.’
PHE figures show that 20% of five-year-olds in London have not received both doses of MMR, leaving hundreds of thousands of children in the capital susceptible.
A PHE spokesman said it was more likely that London would see clusters of measles cases, rather than a widespread outbreak.
Dr Grewal said the ‘chaos’ of the recent NHS reorganisation could cause real problems if measles does reach London. ‘The established channels of communication have gone. We’ve been working very hard over the past few weeks to establish new ones. All new reorganisations lead to confusion, but this has done so in spades,’ he said.
RCGP immunisation lead Dr George Kassianos said: ‘The prospect of seeing measles outbreaks in different areas of the UK is real. We need to prevent this from happening. If necessary, we should open on Saturdays just for MMR vaccinations.’
Morgannwg LMC’s member practices have been at the centre of the outbreak in south Wales. LMC secretary and locum GP Dr Ian Millington praised local practices and the NHS for their response to the outbreak.
He told GP that vaccination clinics and extra consultations had led to real strain on services. ‘Colleagues are working flat out to deliver this, including practice nurses and receptionists.
‘What really worries me, as GMS contract work piles on, is that general practice’s ability to respond will be limited. If the squeeze [on workload] is hard, it can’t deliver during an outbreak: we don’t have enough reserve in the system.’
He added: ‘Practices in areas where immunisation levels are low may need to think about the response they could give should an outbreak occur.’