As an outbreak of the deadly infection spreads across England, 122 cases of measles have been confirmed in five regions. With 34 people coming down with the infection, West Yorkshire has the highest concentration of cases, followed by 32 in the West Midlands, 29 in Liverpool and Cheshire, 20 in Surrey and Sussex, and seven other patients inside Greater Manchester.
The head of immunization at Public Health England, Dr Mary Ramsey, believes the measles outbreak in the UK has spread from mainland Europe, brought back by travelers visiting regions experiencing similar epidemics, like Italy, Germany, and Romania.
To prevent such epidemics in the UK, Dr. Ramsey has urged parents to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).
Prevention methods of measles outbreaks recommend a 95 percent vaccination rate.
NHS immunization statistics show a decline in vaccination rates over the last several years, with only 91.9 percent of children vaccinated against measles between 2015 and 2016, contrasted with 94.2 percent between 2014 and 2015, and 94.3 percent between 2013 and 2014.
The World Health Organization cites the growing fear of vaccines, in combination with general complacency, is leaving many children vulnerable to infection.
The controversial, and largely disproven, views of gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield may be responsible for the declining vaccination percentages. In 1995, he released a study which falsely claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and bowel disease and autism. Regarding a follow-up study in 1998, Wakefield said: “The risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.” Wakefield, who had a patent for single measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, was shown to have a conflict of interest, and had his medical license revoked in 2010.
“Measles is a very infectious virus and can spread rapidly among communities, such as schools, if people have not been fully immunised,” said Dr Will Welfare, a consultant in health protection at Public Health England, to Manchester Evening News, adding: “I would appeal to any parents who have not yet had their children vaccinated to get them protected as soon as possible through their GP.”
Dr David Elliman, a pediatrician at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, stated: ‘Although the uptake of both doses of MMR vaccine is high in UK, because measles is so infectious, it is not yet high enough to stop [the] outbreaks we are seeing’.
The WHO has released warnings concerning the spread of outbreaks across Europe, particularly in areas with low immunization rates such as: France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in the Communicable Disease Threat Report published data in November of last year showing that from January 2016 to November 2017, more than 19,000 measles cases were reported in the European Union, including 46 fatalities.
Romania hosted the highest number of cases in 2017, with 7,759 people infected, trailed by Italy with 4,775 cases and Germany with 898 sufferers. With at least 368 cases, and one death, since May 2017, Greece has also been coping with a measles outbreak. All outbreaks have been linked to inadequate vaccination rates.
“Due to ongoing measles outbreaks within Europe, we will continue to see imported measles cases in the UK in unimmunized individuals,” said Dr. Ramsey.
“This serves as an important reminder for parents to take up the offer of MMR vaccination for their children when offered at one year of age and as a pre-school booster at three years, four months of age.”