The national catch-up programme to increase MMR vaccination uptake in children and teenagers who are unvaccinated has so far resulted in more than 95% of GP practices across England ordering additional doses of the vaccine – more than 200,000 extra in total.
The catch-up programme, run by Public Health England (PHE), NHS England and the Department of Health, aims to prevent measles outbreaks by vaccinating as many 10-16 year olds as possible.
This age group is the most at risk of measles due to the fall in coverage of MMR that occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s when concern around the discredited link between autism and the vaccine was widespread.
The catch-up programme aims ensure that at least 95% of 10-16 year olds have received at least 1 dose of MMR. This is estimated to be around 300,000 children (8%). The programme is also keen to reach another third of a million in this age group who need a second dose of MMR to give them full protection, and a further third of a million children below and above this age band who need another dose.
New figures published today by PHE show numbers of confirmed measles cases in England are still high with 288 cases in April (compared to 175 in April 2012), bringing the total number so far in 2013 to 962. This continues the upward trend seen since early 2012 with monthly totals around the highest recorded levels seen since 1994. However MMR coverage among 5 year olds in England is at its highest ever recorded levels, with 94% receiving 1 dose and 90% receiving 2 doses.
Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at PHE, said:
Our ambition is to vaccinate 95% of 10-16 year olds at risk in time for the next school year and so the number of extra doses ordered by most GP practices is very encouraging. The message to parents who think their child may not be fully immunised is to check today and book an appointment with your GP. The vaccine is there waiting to be used and could save your child’s life. Measles is a serious illness and can lead to significant complications, including hospitalisation in more than one in five cases among teens this year.
We are getting regular feedback from the local NHS teams about what is happening on the ground and are encouraged by the very high levels of involvement by GP practices across England. We will shortly be getting results from a new monitoring system that will tell us the number of vaccines received by children.
We are continuing to work closely with NHS partners to ensure we have accurate records of children who have missed vaccination, to help guide effective local decision making about possible additional targeted activity.
In some areas affected by recent local outbreaks, such as the North East and North West, the NHS had already started to run campaigns in schools. In Teesside for example, school based vaccination clinics have been held in over 120 schools, vaccinating more than 2,000 primary and secondary school age children, and in Greater Manchester 32 schools have initiated schools based vaccination programmes, reaching 1,200 children.
Professor David Salisbury, Director of Immunisation at the Department of Health, said:
The best way to beat measles is to protect people before measles catches them. It’s encouraging that GPs have taken up the challenge wholeheartedly and ordered almost a quarter of a million extra doses of MMR, so we know they are ready to vaccinate people. The best thing that parents can do, if their children have not had two doses of MMR, is to make an appointment with the GP now.
In addition to the more imminent risk of measles, unvaccinated or partially vaccinated young people will remain susceptible to infection with mumps and rubella. During the first quarter of 2013 (January – March), there were 948 cases of mumps. So far, we have seen very few cases of rubella (four) but if it were to come back, then it is a particularly serious risk to young women and their unborn babies.
Notes to editors
The number of extra doses of the vaccine being ordered by GPs across England comes from ImmForm, the vaccine ordering website. It details the number of orders for MMR which have been taken since the catch-up programme was announced, minus the number that would have been ordered for the routine programme.
The catch-up programme sets out a national framework within which local teams – led by NHS England Area Teams, working alongside Directors of Public Health in Local Government, and supported by PHE Centres – are producing tailored plans to identify and give MMR to unvaccinated and partially vaccinated 10-16 year olds through GPs and/or school programmes. Local intelligence may reveal the need to expand the focus of the catch-up activity beyond the 10-16 year old age groups and where this is recognised, further local action will be taken.
Key resources for healthcare professionals involved in the MMR catch up programme are available.
A table of confirmed cases of Measles, Mumps and Rubella 1996-2012 is available. The PHE Health Protection Report articles on measles cases in April 2013 (including cases by region and age group) and measles, mumps and rubella cases for quarter 1 (January-March 2013) are available from the press office under embargo.
See more information on measles and MMR, or NHS Choices on measles.
A Facebook page has also been set up for parents with any questions about the MMR vaccine and we are using #getthemmr with partners on Twitter.
Public Health England is a new executive agency of the Department of Health that took up its full responsibilities on 1 April, 2013. PHE works with national and local government, industry and the NHS to protect and improve the nation’s health and support healthier choices and will be addressing inequalities by focusing on removing barriers to good health. To find out more visit our website www.gov.uk/phe or follow us on Twitter @PHE_uk.
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