Measles resurgence in UK prompts urgent vaccination campaign

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the UK measles-free due to the effectiveness of vaccines. However, the country is currently experiencing its largest outbreak in a decade, requiring urgent action by the health system to contain the spread of the virus.

The latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show a worrying escalation in measles cases, with 118 new cases reported in just one week. These figures bring the total number of confirmed cases to 650, surpassing even the levels recorded during the last significant outbreak in 2013. The situation is particularly critical in the Midlands, where Birmingham has become the epicenter of the outbreak, although it is also seeing a rise in cases in London.

Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, expressed concern, saying “measles remains a cause for concern”, while warning of the highly contagious nature of the virus and the risk of spreading to other regions. Given that 66% of cases have been reported in children under 10 years of age, and a decline in uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, the outbreak has nonetheless affected a variety of age groups, and in fact one man in his 40s has already died. in Birmingham.

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, also stressed the gravity of the situation and the need to increase vaccination rates. “Measles is more contagious than even the most recent variants of Covid-19,” he warned, explaining that with vaccination coverage of around 75%, there are enough people in some areas of the Midlands who are susceptible to the spread of the infection, which explains the recent increase in cases.

The National Health Service (NHS) has responded with a campaign urging parents to vaccinate their children as more than 3.4 million children under 16 are unprotected. In addition, some regions are offering both doses of the MMR vaccine to people under 25 years of age.

Vaccine Confidence Campaign

Steve Russell, director of immunization and screening at the NHS, explained that “as measles cases rise in some parts of the country, we are tackling the spread by contacting all parents and carers of eligible children to invite them to receive the vaccine.” Work is also underway on a campaign to increase vaccine confidence through collaboration with community leaders.

Dr Saliba noted that “worryingly low uptake of the MMR vaccine in some areas of the country” is one of the reasons for the resurgence of measles. MMR vaccine acceptance rates among children in 2022-23 in England were recorded at around 85%, the lowest level since 2010-11. This decline in vaccine acceptance, coupled with international travel facilitating the spread of the virus, has contributed significantly to the current situation.

Although the MMR vaccine has saved millions of lives around the world, it has been the subject of conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns, and this skepticism about the vaccine, which has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to a significant number of children in England going to school. are not protected from measles. “Parents should know that measles is an unpleasant disease for most children and unfortunately for some it can be very serious and life-altering, but it is completely preventable,” Saliba said thanks to the MMR vaccine, which provides lifelong protection. against measles, mumps and rubella with 99% effectiveness.

Unfortunately, the resurgence of measles in the UK is not an isolated phenomenon: this month the WHO reported a significant increase in cases in Europe and Ireland, reporting its first case in seven years. And while symptoms, including a high fever and a red rash all over the body, usually go away in about ten days, complications can be serious and include blindness, seizures and meningitis. In some cases it can also be fatal.

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