MMR jab uptake among young people in England up by 23% since 2023, says NHS

MMR jab uptake among young people in England up by 23% since 2023, says NHS

The number of young people receiving their MMR jab is up nearly a quarter from last year, official figures show.

A national campaign to boost uptake was launched in January amid concern over measles rates in England, when the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident after a major outbreak in the West Midlands. The growth in infections shows no sign of abating, with a 40% increase in reported cases in England since March.

The latest NHS England data shows more than 360,000 MMR jabs were administered in the 12 weeks to 24 March 2024, a 23% rise.

The biggest increases in vaccination numbers were in the north-west, London and the West Midlands.

The first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is typically given to one-year-olds, with the second coming between the ages of three and a half and five. Measles is highly infectious and can lead to serious illness, lifelong disability or even death. In pregnant women, it can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight.

The new campaign encourages parents and carers of children aged from six to 11 to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice so they can receive missed MMR vaccinations, and just over a million people aged 11 to 25 in London and the West Midlands have also been encouraged to catch up on missed jabs.

In order to keep measles at bay, more than 95% of children should be vaccinated, but NHS figures from December suggest England is only at about 85%.

With an estimated 3.4 million under-16s at risk of getting the virus, the campaign sent more than a million parents letters and emails inviting them to get their child vaccinated. Pop-up MMR clinics have been held in wellbeing buses, libraries and schools, pharmacies and outside supermarkets.

But measles cases continue to rise. According to UKHSA figures released last week, there were 103 new cases in the past week. The number of laboratory confirmed cases since 1 October 2023 rose to 1,212 , an increase of 40% on March’s figures . In October 2023, there were just 17.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of the cases were in children under 10. Although UKHSA said measles was present in all regions, 46% of cases were in the West Midlands and 26% in London.

Steve Russell, the NHS national director for vaccinations and screening, welcomed the encouraging vaccination figures, but urged those yet to have their MMR jab to come forward.

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He said: “Measles is a very serious illness and, with data showing cases are still being reported around the country, it is vital that everyone who is still unprotected comes forward to get their two doses as soon as possible, by contacting their GP surgery or visiting one of the pop-up vaccination clinics running in some of the most at-risk areas.”

Responding to the findings, Prof Helen Bedford, an immunisation expert at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it was good news to see so many people vaccinated in such a short space of time – and that pop-up clinics and other initiatives had removed some of the practical barriers to accessing vaccines and providing flexible clinics appointments and information.

She said: “Although vaccine hesitancy is also a factor for some, there are real problems with accessibility across the UK. Measures to help families access appointments and vaccinations are essential.

“However, we are still a way off the 95% uptake target set by the World Health Organization. More work is needed to prevent further measles outbreaks.”