More than half a million children in Britain have not been immunised against measles in the past decade, according to a new estimate.
The children’s charity Unicef has called for a renewed focus on immunisation to reduce a global upsurge in measles cases that is killing thousands each year.
‘Vaccine rejection is a serious and growing public health timebomb’
An upsurge in anti-vaccine messages on social media has been blamed for promoting scepticism among parents, but Public Health England says that the bigger problem in this country is difficulty in getting a GP appointment to have the jabs.
Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, warned the situation was serious. “Getting yourself and your children vaccinated against killer diseases is essential to staying healthy, and vaccine rejection is a serious and growing public health timebomb,” he said.
He called for Facebook and Twitter to take action against the posting of anti-vaccine propaganda and conspiracy theories. “With measles cases almost quadrupling in England in just one year, it is grossly irresponsible for anybody to spread scare stories about vaccines, and social media firms should have a zero-tolerance approach towards this dangerous content,” he said.
‘If we fail we are letting down the next generation just as negligently as by filling the seas with plastic’
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said: “Having your child fully immunised against measles and other childhood infections should be as automatic and straightforward as teaching them how to feed themselves and sending them to school. It should be a no-brainer.
“Unicef is delivering a clear message to all of us in public service to get our act together. If we insist on playing the blame game, then we should be blaming ourselves, not parents and anti-vaxxers when things are not done right.
“It’s what we are paid to do and we have a joint responsibility to deliver. If we fail we are letting down the next generation just as negligently as by filling the seas with plastic and the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.”
‘English vaccination coverage is now 8 per cent below the coverage experts believe is necessary to achieve herd immunity’
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “These numbers highlight the importance of not only routine vaccination but also making sure anyone who missed a dose is caught up to minimise the risk of outbreaks. When you consider absolute numbers it highlights that even a tiny slip – one or two per cent different in vaccination uptake – could make a big difference.”
The dramatic rise in measles cases is a direct result of the drop in vaccinations that followed the publication of fraudulent research linking the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) jab to autism by the disgraced British doctor Andrew Wakefield in 1998.
Vaccination coverage among children reaching their second birthday in England is now only 91 per cent, with just 87 per cent receiving the second dose by their fifth birthday.
This falls below the 95 per cent coverage that is necessary to achieve “herd-immunity”, where outbreaks are effectively unable to spread.