In the UK, the number of children unvaccinated against Measles is rising, adding to the 170 million cases globally.
Around 95 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated for herd immunity to take effect – this is when people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons are naturally protected by others who have been vaccinated.
Some populations may be protected at 92 percent coverage; however, many societies currently sit way below this figure.
‘As soon as the virus is introduced in a population, it spreads like wildfire and 90 percent of kids are going to get sick,’ said Dr Robin Nandy, Unicef’s Chief of Immunisation.
In 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the US, and the ‘anti-vax’ movement may have helped bring this life-threatening disease back from the brink.
The movement spreads misinformation that persuades many parents to not vaccinate their children, claiming that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine can cause autism.
Measles is a preventable disease, but it has no cure. It’s also highly infectious and spreads through droplets released in coughs and sneezes. The virus can also survive for several hours outside the body, so can spread to many people in this time.
People who get the disease are covered in tiny red bumps, and often develop other illnesses such as pneumonia which may kill them. Measles can also have long-term side effects, such as brain swelling. It is estimated that every 1-3 in 1000 people who catch measles will die.
Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaring that the UK eliminated measles in 2016, there were still more than 500 cases, mostly in young people attending festivals where the disease spread rapidly. There are also many measles outbreaks currently in Europe.
Low-and-middle income countries are at the greatest risks of a measles epidemic, especially because the vital second injection if often missed, leaving populations at higher risks.
‘I’m extremely worried and everybody should be worried,’ said Dr Nandy. ‘I’d be very disappointed if we were not worried about it. We have had a vaccine for a number of decades now. It is inexpensive, efficacious, safe and widely available. Despite this we are seeing outbreaks all over the world.’
Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said, ‘Having your child fully immunised against measles and other childhood infections should be as automatic and straightforward as teaching them how to feed themselves and sending them to school. It should be a no-brainer.’
If you have missed your vaccinations, you can be vaccinated at any age against measles. Contact your GP for an appointment.