Low immunisation rates leave London facing serious threat of measles outbreak

London’s infant immunisation rates are so low that the chance of a serious outbreak of measles is worryingly high.

A London Assembly report1 today warns that just over half (52 percent) of the capital’s children are fully immunised against measles, mumps and rubella. This compares to a national average of 74 percent, and is well below the level required to prevent a severe outbreak.

The Health and Public Services Committee’s report also identifies significant variation in the immunisation rates across London boroughs. For example, only a third of children in Greenwich had received their first and second MMR vaccinations by their fifth birthday, and less than half in Bromley, Lewisham and Lambeth2. In contrast, Harrow and Havering have immunisation rates of more than 70 percent.3

Elizabeth Howlett AM, who conducted the investigation on behalf of the Committee, said:

“Last year there were 640 cases of mumps, 271 cases of measles, and 16 cases of rubella in the capital. All of the diseases infants are vaccinated against are potentially serious and it is frightening to think about what could happen if we are faced with a serious outbreak. One thing is clear – we must do everything possible to reverse this downward trend and protect Londoners from disease.”

Dr Mary Ramsay, Consultant Epidemiologist at Centre for Infection, Health Protection Agency, said:

“The number of unvaccinated children in the capital has been mounting up, so that a serious outbreak of measles may be just a matter of time and circumstance: immunisation rates in some communities are so low that introduction of a person infected with measles could lead to large outbreaks difficult to control."

Although there are a number of initiatives to increase immunisation rates, they have only had a limited impact. The report identified a number of reasons why uptake of immunisations is so poor. Major problems with the quality of data collection systems, issues with the way the immunisation service is delivered, the growth and mobility of London’s population and parents’ continued confusion about the safety of vaccinations all contribute to low immunisation levels.

The report called for more work to be done to bring the capital’s immunisation rates up to population immunity levels, which would make a serious outbreak unlikely.

Recommendations include improving data collection systems, increasing opportunistic immunisations (for children who did not get immunised at the target age), and giving parents a clear and consistent message about vaccinations. In addition, high-level staff from the NHS and other agencies should make immunisation a top priority and co-ordinate their efforts to drive forward change.

Notes to Editors:
1. Still Missing The Point? - a report of the London Assembly Health and Public Services Committee
2. Bromley and Lewisham – 47%; Lambeth – 48%; Southwark – 50%.
3. Of those Primary Care Trusts able to submit reliable data in 2005/06 about children who received their first and second MMR vaccinations by their fifth birthday

4. This investigation followed up on a previous London Assembly investigation into infant immunisation that was published in 2003, available at: http://www.london.gov.uk/assembly/reports/health.jsp

5. As well as investigating issues that matter to Londoners, the London Assembly acts as a check and a balance on the Mayor

For more details please contact Lisa Moore in the Assembly Media Office on 020 7983 4228/4283. For out of hours media enquiries please call 0207 983 4000 and ask for the Assembly duty press officer. Non-media enquiries should be directed to the Public Liaison Unit, Greater London Authority, on 020 7983 4100.

Healthcare Republic does not have an editorial influence or input in to these press releases. The views expressed within these documents are not endorsed by Healthcare Republic or Haymarket Medical Publications Limited.

Enquiries should be directed to any contacts listed within the press releases.


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