The Prime Minister wants urgent action to boost the number of children who get vaccinations following a rise in measles cases in the UK.
Boris Johnson is set to reveal plans to increase the percentage of children and young people getting vaccinations – including the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab – when he visits a hospital in the South West of England today.
It follows news of Britain losing its World Health Organisation ‘measles free’ status just three years after the virus was officially eliminated in the country.
There were 231 confirmed measles cases in the UK during the first quarter of this year. Downing Street believes a drop in uptake for the second dose of the MMR jab could be contributing to measles’ return.
Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said: “After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we’ve now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year.
“One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.
“This is a global challenge and there’s a number of reasons why people don’t get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.
“From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.”
Currently only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the MMR jab, down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15.
The NHS will encourage GPs to promote programmes which encourage parents to make sure their children are caught up with the jabs they need.
The Government will also seek to update the advice on the NHS’s website to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines.
Social media companies will also be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.
The Department for Health and Social Care will also deliver a strategy to address the issue in the autumn, in which the NHS is expected to be asked to use technology to identify who may have missed a vaccination and make booking appointments easier.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: “It’s easy to forget how devastating measles can be, precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place.
“With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations, especially for our children, and this time we will eliminate measles for good.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “Losing our measles-free status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated.
“Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine.
“Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak.
“Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.
“Making it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life is a priority for us, DHSC and for NHS England.
“Through our Value of Vaccines campaign we’ll be using all opportunities to remind people to get two doses of MMR vaccine – whether that’s new parents, school children or younger adults.
“This will be crucial to the UK achieving elimination status again in future.”
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England’s medical director, said: “People not getting the vaccines they need is leading to a killer disease like measles unnecessarily becoming a health risk for our country again, with the number of cases almost quadrupling in just one year.
“The NHS and the Government are right to take action to boost vaccination rates – vaccine rejection and falling uptake is a preventable public health risk and it is vital that people get themselves and their children vaccinated.”
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