Public health experts are urging the public to ensure their children have received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine from their GP practice.
The fresh plea was issued today by Public Health England (PHE) as it published new statistics* that showed there were 795 new cases of mumps in England in the first quarter of this year (January to March 2019) compared to 1,024 in the whole of 2018.
There were also 231 new confirmed cases of measles between January and March of this year, compared to 90 cases in the last three months of 2018, although the first quarter of this year’s figures were slightly lower than the same quarter of 2018 when there 265 cases.
No new cases of rubella were reported.
PHE said that because measles was highly infectious, anyone who had not received two doses of MMR vaccine was at risk, particularly unvaccinated people travelling to countries where there are currently large outbreaks of measles.
The recent measles cases are mainly occurring in under-vaccinated communities, said PHE, particularly those with links to other countries with ongoing measles outbreaks.
There had also been some spread into the wider population, such as those who may have missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were younger.
The agency said it wanted all parents to get their children vaccinated when the MMR vaccine was offered, or to take it up now if they did not have it at the scheduled time.
In the final quarter of 2018, 94.9% of eligible children aged five received the first dose of MMR. To achieve herd immunity for measles, at least 90-95% of the population need to be fully protected.
One dose of the MMR vaccine is about 90-95% effective at preventing measles. After a second dose, the level of protection is around 99%.
Currently, coverage of the second dose is at 87.4% for children aged five.
Head of immunisation at PHE Dr Mary Ramsay said: “Measles can kill and it is incredibly easy to catch, especially if you are not vaccinated. Even one child missing their vaccine is one too many – if you are in any doubt about your child’s vaccination status, ask your GP as it’s never too late to get protected.
“There are measles outbreaks happening across Europe so if you are planning to travel, make sure you check with your GP and catch-up if needed. We continue to work with NHS England on how we can make it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life.”
Public health minister Seema Kennedy said: “Over 30 years ago we introduced the MMR vaccine and since then our world-leading vaccination programme is estimated to have prevented 1.8 million painful and potentially fatal cases of measles.
“The vaccine was an enormous catapult for improving the health of children and young people, and still is. No child or young person should have to suffer from mumps, measles or rubella, and we must curb this recent increase in cases so we don’t see a return of horrible diseases of the past. By taking up the MMR vaccine parents and young people can prevent more cases and I would urge everybody to do so.”
*Measles, mumps and rubella: lab-confirmed cases in England 2019. Public Health England (24 May 2019).