MMR vaccine uptake reaches 14-year high

By Anna-Marie Lever
Health reporter, BBC News

  • Published
Boy with measles
Image caption,
MMR vaccine uptake needs to reach 95% to stop measles spreading in the community

MMR vaccine coverage has reached its highest level in 14 years in young children, says the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).

In England, 91% of children under the age of two received the first dose of the jab between 2011 and 2012, a rise of 2.1% on the previous year.

But this is still short of the 95% that experts believe is required to stop the spread of measles.

Measles outbreaks were seen in Sussex and Merseyside earlier this year.

Tim Straughan, chief executive from HSCIC, said: "Today's report marks a significant point in the continued rise of MMR coverage since it hit a low in 2003-04 - as for the first time in 14 years, nine out of 10 children in England have had the MMR vaccine before they turn two.

"However although MMR coverage at two years has risen in all regions of England, and overall the country's coverage has increased in recent years, the national figure remains below the World Health Organization (WHO) target of at least 95%."

This is the first time coverage in England has passed 90% since 1997-98, when immunisation fell due to the controversial claims against the vaccine that were completely without foundation.

Two dose protection

Since 2004 MMR vaccination coverage has generally increased each year - in June 2011 quarterly figures showed it had reached 90% in the UK, for the first dose taken before the age of two.

The first dose of the MMR vaccine should ideally be given to children between 12 to 13 months of age.

They are given the second dose before they start school, usually between three and five years of age, although it can be given three months after the first.

The HSCIC's NHS Immunisation Statistics, England , 2011-12 report shows coverage in England is still below that of other UK nations.

Scotland has the highest uptake of 94.3%, followed by Northern Ireland at 93.3% and then Wales at 92.7%. Overall the UK is at 91.6%.

In England, London had the lowest uptake at just 86.1%.

The highest coverage was in Thames Valley, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight where 93.5% of children were vaccinated.

'Never too late'

While uptake has improved in recent years- children who do not get vaccinated on time, and older children who missed out when the uptake was lower, mean that there are still enough unvaccinated people to allow measles outbreaks to occur.

Dr Helen Bedford, from UCL Institute of Child Health, said: "It is good news that parents have regained their confidence in this highly effective vaccine.

"However, some teenagers and children have never caught up with missed vaccines and remain at risk of these potentially harmful infections.

"It is never too late to have the two doses of MMR vaccine needed to protect against measles, mumps and rubella which can be more severe in adulthood."

Figures from the Health Protection Agency earlier this year showed measles cases in England and Wales almost doubled between January to June compared with the same period in 2011, rising from 497 cases to 964.

Measles can cause serious illness and can, in some cases, be fatal.

Complications can include meningitis and encephalitis - inflammation of the lining of the brain. Rarer disorders of the eye, heart and nervous system can also develop.

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