• 27 September 2017
  • From the section Health

Child getting measles vaccineImage copyright
Jovanmandic

The elimination of measles has been achieved in the UK for the first time, the World Health Organization says.

The global health body classes a country as having eliminated the disease when it has stopped it freely circulating for at least three years.

While there are still small clusters, many of these are brought in from abroad and they are not spreading.

But health experts said there should be no complacency, warning there were several large outbreaks across Europe.

The news comes just a week after it was announced England had achieved the target of getting 95% of children to have had the first does of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine by their first birthday.

That figure is considered important because it ensures herd immunity, meaning the disease cannot spread because of the high level of vaccination rates.

MMR vaccination rates dipped after a panic caused by discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield, who falsely claimed in the late 1990s that the jab caused autism.

Before that the UK was on track to achieve measles elimination.

‘Huge achievement’

According to the latest quarterly report on measles, covering April to June, there were just over 60 cases in England, most were in London, linked to small family clusters and imported from abroad.

There was one in Scotland and small outbreaks in Wales and Northern Ireland, which were linked to Romania where there is a major outbreak.

It marks a major shift from previous years. In 1967 – the year before the vaccine was introduced – there were over 460,000 cases and 99 deaths.

By the 1980s that had been brought down to around 10,000 cases a year and even five years ago there were over 2,000 cases a year.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “This is a huge achievement and a testament to all the hard work by our health professionals in the NHS to ensure that all children and adults are fully protected with two doses of the MMR vaccine.

“We need to ensure that this is sustained going forward by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine in children and by catching up older children and young adults who missed out.”

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