Why children need to be vaccinated after surge in measles cases

UK vaccination rates have reduced leading to a surge in measles cases, but the MMR vaccine is safe and effective and nurses need to help get that message across

A tired and ill child with measles lies down in bed
Picture: iStock

The impact of measles must not be underestimated.

It is a serious and highly infectious disease leading to children feeling very unwell, spending several days in bed and missing two weeks of school. This, in turn, will mean parents and carers needing time off from work.

Many children will go on to develop more serious complications such as otitis media, pneumonia, diarrhoea and encephalitis. Even in a country like the UK measles can also cause death in about 1 in 5,000 cases.

Measles infection also supresses the child’s immune system which means they are more likely to catch other infections often several years after they initially recover from the measles.

Measles is highly infectious so children who are not immunised are at risk

The World Health Organization has described measles as one of the world’s most contagious diseases. The highly infectious nature of this disease means that any children unimmunised are at risk of contracting the infection.

In the UK the vaccination rates over the last ten years have gradually reduced meaning that there are now many children potentially at risk. NHS England’s annual report on vaccination coverage indicates that there are now some parts of the country where there are 25% or more children going into school unvaccinated.

The good news is that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and effective leading to lifelong immunity for measles, and it also protects against mumps and rubella infections.

Nurses, midwives and health visitors should ask at all opportunities about children’s vaccine status

All children in this country are offered two doses of the vaccine and should get these well before they start school where their risk of being exposed to measles is greater.

There is no upper age limit and all parents and children should be encouraged to check they have had two doses and, indeed, if there is any doubt be offered the vaccine again.

The key message for all nurses, midwives and health visitors working with children is to ask at all opportunities about children’s vaccine status and normalise this as part of routine questions.

Make sure it is easy for parents to make appointments for their children to be vaccinated and to ask any questions they may have.

Further information

Independent nurse consultant and immunisation specialist nurse Helen Donovan

Helen Donovan is an independent nurse consultant and immunisation specialist nurse

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