North West health leads urge parents to get children vaccinated as schools return

  • More than 12,000 children in the North West at risk of catching measles
  • Nine in ten unvaccinated classmates can catch disease
  • Measles cases are rising across England

As schools across the North West return this week, the region’s health leads are urging parents to check 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 more than 12,000 children in the North West aged four and five years old starting in reception are not protected against catching measles, mumps and rubella. 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 every region of England, cases of measles are rising. Latest data shows that, in the North West, only 87.1% of children have had both doses of the MMR vaccine, when they reached their fifth birthday – and in some parts of the region the figure is lower than 80%. This falls significantly below the 95% World Health Organisation (WHO) target needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination and stop the spread of the disease.

Whilst measles can be mild for some children, one in five will require a hospital visit and the infection can lead to complication 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.

Tricia Spedding, Head of Public Health for NHS England in the North West, is urging parents and guardians to check their children are fully vaccinated.

Tricia 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.

“It’s really important that little ones are fully protected and the MMR vaccine is the best way to keep your children safe and healthy. Check your child’s red book and make sure they’re fully vaccinated. If not, contact your GP practice to book in their catch up vaccinations as soon as possible.”

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.

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.