Uptake of MMR jabs in young people in England has increased by 23% since 2023, says NHS

The number of young people receiving an MMR injection has increased by almost a quarter compared to last year, official figures show.

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

The latest data from NHS England shows that more than 360,000 MMR jabs have been administered in the 12 weeks to March 24, 2024, an increase of 23%.

The biggest increases in vaccination numbers have been in the North West, London and the West Midlands.

The first dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is usually given to one-year-olds, while the second dose comes between the ages of three and a half to five years. Measles is highly contagious 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 six to 11 to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice so they can receive any missed MMR vaccinations. 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.

To keep measles at bay, more than 95% of children would need to be vaccinated, but NHS figures from December suggest England is only at around 85%.

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

But the number of measles cases continues 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 October 1, 2023 rose to 1,212, a 40% increase over March figures. In October 2023 there were only 17.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of cases occurred in children under 10 years of age. Although UKHSA said measles was present in all regions, 46% of cases occurred 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 who had yet to have their MMR jab to come forward.

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He said: “Measles is a very serious disease and as data shows cases continue to be reported across the country, it is vital that anyone who is still unprotected comes forward to get their two doses as soon as possible by contacting your GP. or visit one of the pop-up vaccination clinics in some of the most at-risk areas.”

Commenting on the findings, Prof Helen Bedford, an immunization 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 time – and that pop-up clinics and other initiatives had removed some practical barriers to accessing vaccines and providing flexible clinic appointments and information.

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

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