9 Aug '13

News MMR campaign has fully vaccinated less than a quarter of children at risk

Parents urged to makes sure teenagers are fully immunised against measles, mumps and rubella before new school term

Health experts have appealed to parents to make sure teenagers not fully vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella have the MMR jab, as new figures suggest well under a quarter of 10-16-year-olds targeted are fully vaccinated.

A catch-up campaign launched in England in April targeted the estimated 600,000 10-16-year-olds who were not fully inocculated against the serious diseases when they were infants, but by the end of June only around 67,000 who had never received the MMR jab are now fully vaccinated with the two neccessary injections.

Authorities are preparing to back up direct contact by GPs with parents with far more direct involvement of schools in the campaign next term if parents do not respond in reasonable numbers over the rest of the holiday.

New figures for the 10-16 age group suggest almost 60,000 previously unvaccinated children have now had one jab in England, compared to 2012. Around 67,000 have had two jabs. But Public Health England (PHE) said these figures cannot be added together as the same person may have had two jabs during the campaign and therefore be included in both groups. An estimated third of a million children and young adults outside of the 10-16 age group have previously been identified as "at risk", but the new figures do not include information about how many of these have since been vaccinated as a result of the campaign.

Although numbers of new measles cases have dropped since the campaign was announced in April, Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE said: "It is still too early to be confident that the drop in cases has come from the campaign, but we are making good progress … Nevertheless, we must still continue with all of our efforts to identify and vaccinate any unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children and young people."

David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, described the figures as "encouraging" but said parents should make appointments with their GPs to ensure their children were fully immunised before returning to school.

A total of 113 cases of measles were confirmed in England with onset in June 2013, making a total of 1,287 cases since January. The region most affected is the north west although numbers have increased too in the south west and London. The age group most affected in June was one to four-year-olds, a change from the 10-14 age group mainly affected earlier in the year. The proportion of cases aged 10-16 years – the age group mainly targeted in the campaign – declined in June to be lower than in any previous month since February 2012.

A fifth of all those who developed measles in 2013 were admitted to hospital including 39 with complications including pneumonia, meningitis and gastroenteritis.

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