GPs urged to promote MMR catch-up as UK loses 'measles-free' status

NHS England has urged GPs to promote catch-up vaccination programmes for MMR after the UK was stripped of its 'measles-free' status amid rising rates of the disease.

MMR vaccination campaign (Photo: Samara Heisz/Getty Images)
MMR vaccination campaign (Photo: Samara Heisz/Getty Images)

NHS England has written to GPs asking them to promote catch-up campaigns for MMR among 10- to 11-year-olds and all children aged between 5 and 25 years old who have not had two doses of the vaccine.

DHSC officials also plan to use the ongoing GP contract review to 'examine wider questions of improving GP capacity to allow additional immunisation appointments' and to press NHS England to consider how vaccination uptake can be increased through 'settings outside' of GP practices.

More than 230 cases of measles were recorded in the UK in the first quarter of 2019 alone - with the government blaming a rise in cases on falling rates of immunisation.

Vaccine uptake

Just 87.2% of children in the UK have received their second MMR dose, compared with 88.6% in 2014/15, the government has said.

A government strategy to be published in autumn will ask the NHS to 'use technology to identify who may have missed an appointment and make booking appointments easier', develop a 'major campaign' with GPs, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS England to promote vaccination - and to tackle 'misinformation spread online'.

The plans come as the UK was stripped of its 'measles-free' status awarded in 2016 by the World Health Organisation.

PHE head of immunisation said: 'Losing our "measles-free" status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated. Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine.

Infectious disease

'Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak. Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.'

Prime minister Boris Johnson said: 'After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we’ve now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year. One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.

'This is a global challenge and there’s a number of reasons why people don’t get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'We are still suffering from the now entirely debunked MMR scandal of the nineties, and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to serious, often life-threatening infectious diseases, such as measles, that we could have completely eradicated in this country if this had never happened.

'People who were not vaccinated as children need to understand that it is not too late to have their MMR jab and we would urge them to do so.

'We welcome that the government is addressing the falling take-up of childhood vaccinations seriously - and are particularly pleased to see that they are involving social media companies in their strategy given the deeply concerning and misleading school of thought, especially prevalent online and across social media, that casts doubt over the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.'

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