More than 32,000 children across London at risk of catching measles as new school term gets underway

More than 32,000 children across London at risk of catching measles as new school term gets underway

  • Nine in ten unvaccinated classmates susceptible
  • MMR uptake lowest in a decade
  • Measles cases rising in London

With millions of children across the country going back to school this week, the NHS is urging parents to check that their children are up to date with their MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccinations in the wake of measles cases rising across the country.

Childhood vaccination rates have fallen over the past ten years and this week statistics show that across the country more than 102,000 children aged four and five starting in reception are not protected against catching measles, mumps and rubella. This includes more than 32,000 children across the capital. Measles is highly infectious and if left unvaccinated nine out of ten children in a classroom will catch the disease if just one child is infectious.

In July this year the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) announced that there was a high risk of measles in London, with a prediction of up to 160,000 cases in the capital alone. With some areas of London reporting as many as 40% of children unvaccinated, the risk of spread is much higher than elsewhere in the country. Every region in England has reported confirmed cases of the infectious disease and cases to date are over double that of the whole of last year.

While measles can be mild for some children, one in five will require a hospital visit and the infection can lead to complications in one in 15, such as meningitis and sepsis. There is no specific treatment for measles, so parents are being reminded that vaccination gives the best protection from serious illness.

To avoid the risk of a measles outbreak in London the NHS began a polio and MMR catch up programme in London in May 2023.This involves schools aged immunisation service (SAIS) providers offering polio and MMR vaccinations to children who have missed doses through primary schools and community venues.

Dr Oge Ilozue, GP and Senior Clinical Advisor, NHS London Vaccination Programme said: “Measles can start with cold like symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing and a cough with a rash not showing until they have been infectious for up to four days. In a classroom it may not be easy to spot that they have the measles infection at first and before they have a rash they could have infected nine out of ten of their unvaccinated classmates.”

The MMR vaccine is given at one year old and again at around three years and four months in readiness for starting school. Two doses are enough to give lifelong protection from becoming seriously unwell with mumps, measles and rubella. The MMR vaccine is often given at the same time as the pre-school booster including protection against polio. Anyone who has missed any of the vaccinations can catch up at any time.

London GP Dr Sara Kayat said: “It’s important we keep our little ones fully protected from measles, which is on the rise. Speaking as both a doctor and a mum, the MMR vaccine is the best possible way to keep our children safe and healthy. So, I am urging parents and guardians to check your child’s red book to make sure they are fully vaccinated against this disease”

The World Health Organisation identifies measles as one the most contagious infections in the world, yet the disease is completely preventable with vaccination. The UK lost its eradication status for measles in 2018 following an increase measles cases in the country and vaccine levels lower than the 95% target set.

To check if your child is up to date with their vaccinations check their red book or ask their GP practice. If any doses have been missed you can make an appointment at your GP practice to catch up and become protected.

NHS facts about measles:

  • Measles cases are rising. There is no specific treatment for measles and the MMR vaccination gives the best possible protection against illness.
  • Between 1 January and 30 June there were 128 cases of measles, compared to 54 cases in the whole of 2022, with 85 (66 per cent) of the cases detected in London although cases have been seen in all regions.
  • Just one person with measles can infect nine out of ten people who have not had the MMR vaccination.
  • Measles is more than just a rash, in some cases it can lead to meningitis and sepsis, causing real risk to life.
  • 1 in 5 cases of measles cases requires a hospital visit
  • Since the measles vaccine was introduced in the 1960s over 20 million cases have been avoided, saving over 4,500 lives.
  • The Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe and has been used since the early 1980s.
  • Measles is completely preventable with the MMR vaccine. Two doses provide over 99% protection.
  • Young children are offered one MMR vaccine after their first birthday and the second before they start school, usually at around 3 years and 4 months. This is because two doses of the MMR vaccine provides the best possible protection against measles, as well as mumps and rubella.
  • 95% MMR vaccination uptake, the target set by the WHO, is enough to create herd immunity, protecting those who are not able to be vaccinated, such as babies under one years old, and stop measles circulating
  • Measles is highly infectious respiratory infection and can be passed on up to four days before a rash appears.
  • The WHO declared measles as one of the world’s most contagious diseases

 Gov data for MMR childhood immunisation uptake figures.