Posted on 02 February 2024

​Millions of people in the UK might be at risk from Measles after a large outbreak in the Midlands where millions of unvaccinated children are lacking protection about the once scarce disease. Cases are rising across the country – and the NHS are imploring parents to protect their children with the MMR vaccine – a safe viral vector vaccine which does not feature mRNA technology like the coronavirus vaccine, potentially calming the nerves of the public who saw poor protection from infection from coronavirus vaccines.

It’s reported that London and the West Midlands are particularly vulnerable with more than 3.4 million children without their MMR vaccine. The NHS is hoping a campaign, similar to one advertised last winter could again increase uptake 10% or more. Measles is highly contagious and could easily become a more violent epidemic across larger areas of the country. Dame Jenny Harries called for "a call to action right across the country" after many Midlands hospitals are admitting far more children than previous years or even decades.

The MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) is usually administered in two separate doses the first at age one and the second when a child is about three years and four months old (40 months later). The target for blanket protection or background immunity which is a mechanism whereby the number of protected individuals is high enough to prevent a general epidemic due to a lack of infection prone hosts is about 95% for children in primary education, but some areas only have just higher than 80% coverage. Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham have a mere 75% of five-year-olds that have had two doses. The elephant in the room, and perhaps a background context to the low uptake is the recent events with the coronavirus pandemic.

Many members of the public took the experimental mRNA vaccine which performed well at preventing death but works very poorly at preventing infection compared to standard viral vector vaccines. The public often got their coronavirus vaccine on the premise of not wanting to infect others. Thus, a fully vaccinated family with coronavirus still being liable to infection would likely harm the confidence of families in science and public health messaging, along with the shenanigans of the current administration during lockdown. Indeed, many young adults who were young children when a study falsely linked the vaccine and autism 25 years ago, are still unvaccinated because of the scepticism of the safety of vaccines, which can only have risen post-pandemic.

The campaign is expected to contact over 4 million parents by text message and remind carers and guardians about the dosing schedule that is required, but good public messaging should include information about just how uncommon measles is mostly in the first world – a disease reserved for epidemics mostly in the 2nd and 3rd world countries. However, the western world is seeing diminished vaccination rates for many pathogens and thus dreaded 19th and 20th century pathogens are on the rise which have previously been known to be extinct in nature.

Steve Russell, NHS England's director of vaccinations and screening, said the NHS was acting urgently to prevent 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”. Measles can hospitalise nearly 1 in 5 children and thus is no laughing matter, but one has to be conscious contextually from the situation in which the public has just emerged and at least understand why misinformation and disinformation about vaccinations may be playing a role in the return of a formidable disease nearly eliminated in Britain in the past.

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