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Chance of measles epidemic 'very high indeed', Government admits

By Lilian Anekwe

The Department of Health has warned the likelihood of measles epidemic is 'very high indeed' as new figures obtained by Pulse show the MMR catch-up having little impact on uptake.

The warning in the department's December vaccine update newsletter is arguably its strongest statement yet on the likelihood of a measles epidemic.

It comes just a week after latest figures showed measles cases this year had soared to a record high of 1,049 by the end of October. A mass vaccination campaign of more than 10,000 children has also begun in cities across Cheshire.

Figures obtained by Pulse also show the MMR catch-up campaign has had little impact so far on vaccine uptake in the urban areas most at risk of a measles epidemic.

Uptake of the MMR vaccine at five years in six PCTs in London, Birmingham and Manchester has barely changed between the first and second quarters of the current financial year.

The figures suggest the catch-up campaign, which was supposed to begin in August, is yet to have the rapid effect on uptake that was hoped.

Early figures from the trusts show only one, Bromley PCT, can demonstrate a clear improvement in its figures up to the end of September.

Its uptake of the first vaccine dose in five-year-olds rose from 76.4 to 85.4%, and for both doses from 52.7 to 69.4%.

But elsewhere, figures were almost unchanged in Lambeth, Bexley, Heart of Birmingham and Manchester PCTs, despite GP efforts to identify immunised children from practice records and invite them in for vaccination.

In Hammersmith and Fulham PCT, uptake has dropped sharply in five-year-olds, from 59.9 to 49.3% for both doses.

Dr David Elliman, consultant community paediatrician at Great Ormond Street hospital in London, said: ‘It underlines the importance of not waiting for a catch-up campaign but routinely making sure each child is immunised. Catch-up campaigns are not the way forward. They are the last resort when all else has failed.'

The Department of Health's vaccine update said the scale of the task to immunise the 500,000 children was not as great as it looked.

'It breaks down as about seven children per GP practice per year for the last seven years. So, if all GP practices could be persuaded to immunise just 50 un-immunised children we will have caught up. Obviously, it's not as straightforward as this because these are average figures but at least it makes the task look rather less daunting than it might at first sight.'

MMR catch-up having little impact on uptake as Government admits likelihood of measles epidemic 'very high indeed' MMR catch-up having little impact on uptake as Government admits likelihood of measles epidemic 'very high indeed'

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