NHS England is contacting parents and carers of 750,000 children who have missed their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination to encourage them to book an appointment with their GP.
Texts, emails and letters are being sent out from this week after figures showed around one in 10 children aged between one and six years are not up to date with one or two doses of the MMR.
Invitations have also been sent out to 1.5 million parents of two and three year olds for flu vaccination. Where possible, children can receive their MMR catch up vaccine at the same time as their flu vaccine, NHS England said.
In June, NHS England documents revealed that a campaign would launch in the next three months to increase uptake of the MMR vaccine, amid a measles surge.
The World Health Organization raised the alarm earlier this year about possible measles outbreaks as a result of disruption to immunisation schedules caused by the pandemic.
It followed figures that showed MMR uptake in the UK had fallen to the lowest levels for a decade with 85.5% having had both doses by the age of five years.
Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said: ‘Measles, mumps and rubella easily spread between unvaccinated people and can be very serious, so it is important that parents make sure their children are protected against MMR as they return to school, and are up to date with their flu vaccination if eligible as we head into the winter months.
Meanwhile, this year’s flu season is likely to be severe and strike early, Government public health experts have warned.
The UK could also face a ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu infections this winter, with both infections expected to circle widely, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.
Reduced social mixing during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to lower levels of natural immunity to the flu this year, especially among children below the age of five, making the population especially susceptible to infection, it explained.
It further said that the H3N2 influenza subtype is currently the most widely circulating worldwide and has already caused early waves of infection in southern hemisphere countries like Australia.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical advisor at UKHSA, said the flu H3N2 subtype ‘can cause particularly severe illness’, and in combination with widely circulating Covid variants this ‘poses a serious risk to our health’.
The last time H3N2 was dominant in the UK, in 2017-18, there were 41,730 flu-related hospital admissions in England and approximately 22,000 excess deaths.
However, early evidence from Australia suggests that current flu vaccines are well matched to the current subtypes in circulation and can provide effective protection against severe illness.
Under the flu vaccination enhanced service, GP practices are required to do call and recall for children aged 2 and 3 years old; those aged 50 and over; and those aged 6 months to 50 years in clinical at-risk groups, said guidance published this week.
Dr Hopkins added: ‘Most eligible groups have been selected because they are at higher risk of severe illness. Younger children are unlikely to have built up any natural immunity to flu and therefore it is particularly important they take the nasal spray vaccine this year.’
A version of this article was first published by MiP’s sister titles Pulse and Nursing in Practice