Only a national MMR catch-up campaign can prevent a child health tragedy
We must not wait until the situation in Swansea is replicated elsewhere on a much bigger scale, argues Dr Richard Vautrey
Measles is a dreadful disease. Many GPs will still remember having to deal with the serious consequences of regular outbreaks. Sadly a few of us will have seen children die from catching measles. It’s why for years GPs have been so keen to encourage parents to bring their children for MMR vaccination. They know what benefit it offers and what the risks could be of not being protected.
Before the current outbreak in Swansea and the small number of other isolated outbreaks across the UK, very few parents of young children will have seen measles or appreciated the potential devastating impact of catching it. It’s led to a degree of complacency in the minds of some parents that MMR vaccination doesn’t matter.
However, far more damaging has been the irresponsibility of parts of the national and local media in the way they have reported the scare stories that MMR could be harmful. The plunging confidence in a safe vaccination has led to the situation we face today, with many thousands of children left inadequately protected. There is still no sign of any newspaper editors being prepared to take responsibility for what they have done, but many should hang their heads in shame.
GPs, practice nurses and other healthcare workers in Wales, working closely with public health colleagues, have responded to the current outbreak impressively well, as we would have expected. When there is a crisis, general practice rises to the challenge.
Through the hard work of practices MMR immunisation rates have improved again in recent years but they are still too low in many areas and that higher achievement does not count the many older children who have only partial protection or not received any MMR vaccination at all.
We now need the newly formed Public Health England to do the same as their colleagues in Wales. This is its first big test. There is a need for a coordinated and well publicised national catch-up campaign. Public Health England, working with GPC, should develop an enhanced service that can be used to support practices to play their part. In addition a comprehensive school based programme could be put in place.
We must not wait until the situation in Swansea is replicated in England on a much bigger scale. We should be proactive and seek to protect as many children as possible from the risk of an outbreak of this potentially killer disease.
Dr Richard Vautrey is deputy chair of the GPC and a GP in Leeds.