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MMR vaccination call following high numbers of measles cases

Outbreaks of measles prompt Public Health England to call for anyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.

Public Health England (PHE) is calling for all parents to get their children vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) when the vaccine is offered, or for them to take it up now if they didn’t have it at the scheduled time.

In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles. This figure is slightly lower compared to the same quarter last year. As measles is highly infectious, anyone who has not received 2 doses of MMR vaccine is at risk, particularly unvaccinated people travelling to countries where there are currently large outbreaks of measles.

The recent measles cases are primarily occurring in under-vaccinated communities, particularly those with links to other countries with ongoing measles outbreaks. There has also been some spread into the wider population, such as those who may have missed out on the MMR vaccine when they were younger.

In the final quarter of 2018, 94.9% of eligible children aged 5 received the first dose of MMR. To achieve herd immunity for measles, at least 90 to 95% of the population need to be fully protected.

One dose of the MMR vaccine is about 90 to 95% effective at preventing measles. After a second dose, the level of protection is around 99%.

Coverage of the second dose is at 87.4% for children aged 5, for this reason PHE is urging those who have only had one dose to ensure they are fully vaccinated with 2 doses.

This quarter, 795 cases of mumps have also been confirmed. No new cases of rubella were reported.

Dr Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England said:

Measles can kill and it is incredibly easy to catch, especially if you are not vaccinated. Even one child missing their vaccine is one too many – if you are in any doubt about your child’s vaccination status, ask your GP as it’s never too late to get protected.

There are measles outbreaks happening across Europe so if you are planning to travel, make sure you check with your GP and catch-up if needed.

We continue to work with NHS England on how we can make it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life.

Seema Kennedy, Public Health Minister said:

Over 30 years ago we introduced the MMR vaccine, and since then our world-leading vaccination programme is estimated to have prevented 1.8 million painful and potentially fatal cases of measles. The vaccine was an enormous catapult for improving the health of children and young people and still is.

No child or young person should have to suffer from mumps, measles or rubella, and we must curb this recent increase in cases so we don’t see a return of horrible diseases of the past. By taking up the MMR vaccine parents and young people can prevent more cases and I would urge everybody to do so.

The MMR vaccine is given on the NHS as a single injection to babies, as part of their routine vaccination schedule, usually within a month of their first birthday. A second injection of the vaccine is given just before starting school, usually at 3 years and 4 months.

The vaccine is also available to all adults and children who are not up to date with their 2 doses. Anyone who is not sure if they are fully vaccinated should check with their GP and those planning to travel to Europe should check NaTHNaC travel health advice.


The latest UK quarterly data and commentary on coverage achieved by the UK childhood immunisation programme is available.

Measles signs and symptoms

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications. It’s now uncommon in the UK because of the effective MMR vaccination programme. Although usually a mild illness in children, measles can be more severe in adults.

The initial symptoms of measles develop around 10 days after a person is infected. These can include:

  • cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough
  • sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
  • a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
  • a few days later, a red-brown blotchy rash will appear. This usually starts on the head or upper neck, before spreading outwards to the rest of the body

Symptoms usually resolve in about 7 to 10 days.

Mumps signs and symptoms

Cases of mumps have increased significantly this quarter with outbreaks reported in some universities. However, numbers remain well below those seen in the past. Mumps cases tend to increase every 3 years in environments with close mixing such as festivals and universities. Although unvaccinated teenagers are at highest risk, mild cases can occur in those who are fully vaccinated.

The initial symptoms develop 14 to 21 days after a person is infected. These can include:

  • fever, shivers, tiredness and painful swelling of the parotid glands. One side may be swollen initially but usually, both glands are eventually affected
  • difficulty opening the mouth to talk, eat and drink
  • children may complain of earache, difficulty eating and drinking, and, sometimes, abdominal pain

In as many as 30% of cases, symptoms are so minimal that the infection goes unnoticed. However, it can rarely cause unpleasant and painful complications, especially in older children.


No new cases of rubella were reported this quarter.

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