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Measles is back: UK loses its measles-free status as MMR coverage declines

GPs will be urged to promote 'catch-up' vaccination to boost uptake levels

GPs will be urged to promote 'catch-up' vaccination to boost uptake levels


Picture: Alamy

The UK has lost its measles-free status, prompting the government to say it will urge GPs to promote 'catch-up' vaccinations.

However, the RCN insists a lack of primary care nurses will hamper attempts to improve vaccine uptake.

A total of 231 cases of measles were confirmed in the first quarter of 2019. The news comes three years after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease to have been eliminated from the UK because there had been no endemic transmission of the disease in the previous 12 months. 

Currently only 87.2% of eligible children in the UK take up the second dose of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15.

The government’s plans to improve vaccination rates include:


RCN professional lead for public
health, Helen Donovan.
Picture: Barney Newman

  • NHS England writing to all GPs reminding them to promote ‘catch-up’ vaccination programmes, and strengthening the role of local immunisation co-ordinators.
  • Using the NHS website to debunk myths about vaccination.
  • Outlining how the NHS could use technology to identify those who have not been vaccinated. 
  • Streamlining the system for booking appointments.

RCN professional lead for public health, Helen Donovan, said the government’s ­­­plan would help improve vaccine uptake, but added that nurse shortages would impede these efforts.

‘Nurses are pivotal to earning public trust in the vaccination programme and are a vital source of information for parents and guardians,’ she said. ‘The widespread nursing shortages compound the issue.’

Measles on the rise worldwide


Measles immunisation is a key public health strategy. Picture: Alamy

In the first six months of 2019, 364,808 cases of measles were reported by a total of 182 countries, the highest number of cases since 2006.

This latest figure is almost triple last year’s equivalent, when 129,239 measles cases were reported across 181 countries.


An important reminder of the importance of vaccination

Public Health England head of immunisation, Mary Ramsay, said the UK losing its measles-free status was a reminder of the importance of vaccination.

‘Measles is one of the most infectious diseases – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak,’ she said.


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