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MMR uptake goes up slightly as measles cases continue to fall

There was only a slight increase in the uptake of MMR since last month, but measles cases have continued to decline Public Health England has revealed today.

There were 113 confirmed cases of measles in June, compared with 193 cases in May and 299 in April.

But PHE says it is still too early to say whether the MMR catch-up campaign had caused the drop in cases, and that area teams have begun planning for additional mechanisms to boost vaccination uptake.

Latest figures suggest ‘almost 60,000’ unvaccinated children aged 10–16 years have now had a single dose of MMR – still only around half the number needed by September to ensure the goal of 95% of that age cohort being protected by the start of the new school term. Last month’s figures revealed there had been 55,000 vaccinations.

Screening and immunisation teams in each area have now been tasked with ‘reinforcing the work done so far by general practices’ and ‘planning for additional efforts to identify those remaining unvaccinated children in the target age-range’, PHE said.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, told Pulse last month that schools programmes would likely be needed from September in some areas, such as London.

Meanwhile PHE remains frustrated in its efforts to get an accurate picture of vaccine uptake. Figures are currently determined by estimating the fall in unvaccinated numbers since the start of the programme, and PHE has now commissioned an audit to confirm baseline and current coverage levels.

This ‘will take information from the Child Health Information Systems in London and elsewhere, and review this against GP records for those identified as unvaccinated to confirm their vaccination status’.

Dr Ramsay said in a press statement: ‘It is still too early to be confident that the drop in cases has come from the campaign but we are making good progress towards the 95% target. Nevertheless, we must still continue with all of our efforts to identify and vaccinate any unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children and young people.’

Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: ‘These figures are encouraging, but the best thing that parents can do, if their children have not had two doses of MMR, is to make an appointment with the GP before their children return back to school or college.’

Dr John Hughes, medical secretary at Manchester LMC and a GP in Crumpsall, in the north of the city, commented: ‘I think nationally a trick was missed with this, by failing to have any sort of proper media campaign to encourage vaccination during the Swansea outbreak: doing so would have helped encourage parents to bring children to their GP.

‘Also the DES only included the standard [item of service] vaccine fee, with no extra funding or incentives for practices to resource extra staff time to contact and pursue those who had not attended for vaccination.

‘While I understand the reasoning that the majority of those requiring catch-up are teenagers and that concentrating on school programmes may help, there are capacity issues in the schools vaccination schedules, and many of these teenagers also attend their GPs for contraception, acne treatment etc.’

Public Health England - MMR catch-up campaign