Fears over the safety of the MMR jab have been blamed for a deadly measles outbreak in Leeds and Liverpool with up to 28 cases reported.
Manchester has been placed on high alert to be hit next and there are growing concerns it will spread across the UK following the epidemic in Europe.
On November 23 outbreaks were confirmed in Leeds, which has 17 cases, and Liverpool, which has eight affirmed and three probable cases.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned measles was spreading across Europe in regions where vaccination is low.
To prevent outbreaks, it is recommended that 95 per cent of the population is immunised against the infection.
Only 91.9 per cent of children were vaccinated against measles between 2015 and 2016 compared to 94.2 per cent in 2014 to 2015 and 94.3 per cent in 2013 to 2014, according to NHS immunisation statistics.
Dr David Elliman, paediatrician at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: ‘Although the uptake of the both doses of MMR vaccine is high in UK, because measles is so infectious, it is not yet high enough to stop outbreaks we are seeing’.
The WHO claims people’s fear of vaccines, along with complacency, means many, particularly young children, are unprotected.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, revealed all the cases reported have involved children or adults who did not receive the MMR vaccine.
The decision by parents not to vaccinate their children could be attributed to disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield’s theory in 1995 that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to bowel disease and autism. His controversial views have since been widely discredited.
NHS Choices tweeted yesterday: ‘Measles outbreak in Leeds and Liverpool. If you have symptoms, stay at home’.
Although most make a full recovery, around one in 15 sufferers develop life-threatening complications, including pneumonia and convulsions.
Fears over vaccine safety is blamed for the deadly measles outbreak in Leeds and Liverpool
MEASLES DECLARED ‘ELIMINATED’ FROM THE UK JUST TWO MONTHS AGO
The ‘elimination’ of measles has been achieved in the UK, global health leaders said in September.
The elimination of measles or rubella can be verified once a country has sustained ‘interruption of endemic transmission’ for at least 36 months, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The European Regional Verification Commission said the UK has achieved elimination status as of 2016 for measles.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: ‘We are delighted that the WHO has confirmed that the UK achieved measles elimination in 2016 and that rubella elimination continues to be sustained.
‘In addition, national vaccine coverage of the first MMR dose in five year olds has hit the WHO 95 per cent target.
‘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.’
|Region of England||% vaccinated|
Yorkshire & Humber
East of England
Source: NHS immunisation statistics
WHAT IS MEASLES?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an injected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.
Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.
The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading.
Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.
In one in 15 cases, measles can cause complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.
Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious.
‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain.
‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’
Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.
Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
‘Stay at home’
NHS Choices tweeted yesterday: ‘Measles outbreak in Leeds and Liverpool.
‘Measles is an infectious illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to complications.
‘Symptoms include: high fever; sore, red, watery eyes; coughing; aching and a blotchy red brown rash.
‘If you have these symptoms, stay at home and phone your GP or NHS 111 for advice.’
Why is there an outbreak?
Earlier this year, the WHO warned measles was spreading across Europe in regions where vaccination rates are low, namely France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine.
To prevent outbreaks, it is recommended that 95 per cent of the population is immunised against measles, however, the WHO claims people’s fear of vaccines, along with complacency, means many are unprotected, particularly young children.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: ‘We are are seeing measles circulating in Liverpool and Leeds in two separate localised outbreaks.
‘All of the cases we are seeing are in children and young adults who haven’t received the MMR vaccine.
‘Due to ongoing measles outbreaks within Europe, we will continue to see imported measles cases in the UK in unimmunised individuals.
‘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.’
Dr Elliman added: ‘Although the uptake of the both doses of MMR vaccine is high in UK, because measles is so infectious, it is not yet high enough to stop outbreaks we are seeing’.
MMR vaccination is highest among two-year-olds in the North East, where 95 per cent have been immunised. Rates are lowest in London, where just 86.4 per cent have had the injection
Is Andrew Wakefield’s discredited research to blame for low vaccination rates?
In 1995 the gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.
He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.
After a 1998 paper further confirming this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed autistic enterocolitis] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’
At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.
Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and UK plummeted, until, in 2004 the then-editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by attorneys seeking lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.
The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.
Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practicing medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.
On January 6 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.
At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.
Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.