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Practices urged to do MMR catch-up campaigns amid rising cases of measles

by Emma Wilkinson
6 November 2023

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GP practices in England are being asked to participate in a catch-up campaign for MMR vaccine after public health officials warned of rising cases of measles.

A letter from NHS England sent on the 1 November said once again the focus on boosting immunisation rates for 2023/24 will be centred on MMR.

‘Measles cases are rising with over twice as many cases confirmed in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year,’ the letter said.

Practices are contractually required to participate in a national vaccination and immunisation national catch-up campaign each year and for 2023/24 the focus will be on improving MMR uptake, the letter said.

It comes as Public Health Wales declared a measles outbreak in Cardiff, with seven children confirmed as having the infection over the past six weeks.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board is working with the council to ensure contract tracing has identified anyone who may be susceptible to infection, Public Health Wales said.

Parents are being urged to make sure their children were up to date with the MMR vaccine with the same message to any adults who have never had it who are in close contact with children.

Sion Lingard, consultant in health protection for Public Health Wales, said: ‘Links have been found between all seven cases so while there is currently no evidence of wider community transmission, measles is an extremely contagious infection and we are concerned that people who are not protected by vaccination could be at risk.

‘It can be expected that more cases may be identified over the coming weeks.

‘We urge parents whose children have not received two doses of MMR as offered to ensure that they speak to their GP surgery to arrange this quick, safe and effective vaccine.’

Meanwhile, surgeries in England have been asked to do local call and recall for eligible children aged 12 months to five years between November and March.

And from January to March to support requests for vaccination for those aged six to 25 years who will be identified through phased national call and recall.

Further information will be given to provide advance notice of the national campaign to identify and call in those older groups who have missed an MMR dose, the letter said.

In September, the UK Health Security Agency said it was ‘seriously concerned’ about an ongoing downward trend in the uptake of childhood vaccines.

Annual figures from 2022/23 show falling uptake of between 0.1 and 1.2 percentage points across 12 of 14 measures. 

There was variation across UK regions but in England MMR levels for the first and second doses by five years in England fell to the lowest rates since 2010/11, the most recent annual figures for 2022/23 showed.

No vaccines met the World Health Organisation (WHO) 95% uptake target in England. 

In summer an assessment of rising measles cases identified London as particularly vulnerable to a resurgence due to low vaccine uptake.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, UKHSA consultant epidemiologist said: ‘Due to longstanding sub-optimal vaccine uptake there is now a very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London.

‘Measles spreads very easily but is preventable. Nobody wants to see their child or loved ones sick with measles, or put others who are more vulnerable, like babies, at risk. I urge those who have missed their MMR vaccines to catch-up now.’

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse