Following recent reports that England has seen more measles cases so far in 2018 than in all of 2017, health officials are combating outbreaks of the virus with vaccination clinics.
With the number of measles outbreaks in England continuing to rise, health officials are urging anyone who has not received vaccination to protect against the virus to do so, as a new school is reporting an outbreak affecting more than a dozen students.
In 2017, Europe reported 4 times the number of measles cases that had been reported in the previous year. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Office for Europe reported 21,315 cases overall in 2017, including 282 cases in England. Public health officials have linked the four-fold spike in cases across Europe to declining vaccination rates across much of the continent. In September 2017, England’s National Health Service (NHS) released a report on the country’s childhood vaccination coverage statistics for 2016 to 2017. The report noted that for the third year in a row, coverage for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine declined among children 2 years of age and that the rate of MMR vaccination stood at 91.6%. Among children 5 years of age, 95% had received 1 dose of the vaccine, as recommended by the WHO. The NHS routine vaccine schedule recommends children receive the second dose of the MMR vaccine when starting school, before 4 years of age.
On May 11, 2018, Public Health England (PHE) announced that outbreaks of measles were occurring across the country. The announcement noted that there was 440 laboratory confirmed cases of measles in England from January 1, 2018, to May 9, 2018, with London, the South East, West Midlands, South West, and West Yorkshire reporting the most cases. PHE officials have linked the outbreaks to travel across Europe, particularly by unvaccinated individuals going to countries such as Romania and Italy, which each reported more than 5,000 measles cases in 2017. In a May 21 news release, PHE announced that the Chichester area was experiencing a measles outbreak, with 15 confirmed cases at Chichester High School.
“While measles has, until now, been relatively uncommon in England thanks to the MMR vaccine, those who are unvaccinated, or not fully vaccinated, remain susceptible to the disease,” said PHE health consultant Dr. Sarah Locke in a recent statement. In response to the outbreak, PHE has set up special vaccination clinics for Chichester High School students and children at other area schools, with the vaccine available free of charge. Clinics are available for children who have received no doses or only 1 dose of the MMR vaccine.
“Also remain alert to the symptoms of measles, which can include cold-like symptoms, sore red eyes, a high temperature followed by a red-brown blotchy rash,” she added. “If you experience these symptoms seek medical attention but be sure to phone ahead before you visit your GP surgery so arrangements can be made to prevent others from being infected.”
Chichester school officials are commending the response from PHE, parents, and the local community. “We know that some of the parents have concerns and fears about the MMR vaccination and it has been an invaluable opportunity for our parents to talk with health professionals so they can make an informed choice about their child’s health,” said Chichester High School executive principal Yasmin Maskatiya. “This has been a great example of the educational and health sectors working together to serve the local community.”