MMR vaccination uptake has dropped to the lowest level in a decade

Parents and guardians are being encouraged to make sure their children are up-to-date with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and all other routine childhood immunisations, as the latest data shows MMR vaccination uptake has dropped to the lowest level in a decade.  

In a new campaign drive, parents and guardians are being reminded that during the pandemic, the NHS has continued to provide routine childhood immunisations and they are crucial in protecting children against preventable diseases.   

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, there has been a significant drop in the numbers of people getting their children vaccinated against MMR and other childhood vaccines at the right time.  

Coverage of the two doses of the MMR vaccine in five-year olds is currently 87% in the North West, which is below the 95% World Health Organisation’s target needed to achieve and sustain measles elimination. Coverage of the first dose of the MMR vaccine in 2-year olds is 95% in the North West.  This means that there are still children under the age of 5 in the North West not fully vaccinated against measles and are at risk of catching it. 

Measles is highly contagious so even a small decline in MMR uptake can lead to a rise in cases.  As international travel resumes, it is more likely that measles will be brought in from countries that have higher levels of the disease and so it is important that we improve MMR vaccination rates to help prevent a rise in cases.  

Measles can lead to complications such as ear infections, pneumonia, and inflammation of the brain which may require hospitalisation and on rare occasions can lead to long term disability or death. Since the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1968 it is estimated that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented in the UK. 

Children are offered two doses of the MMR vaccine by their registered GP surgery, the first when they turn 1 and the second at around 3 years and 4 months. The NHS has continued to prioritise routine vaccinations throughout the pandemic, however some parents who haven’t had their child vaccinated with the MMR vaccine said this was because they didn’t realise the NHS was still offering appointments, or they didn’t want to burden the NHS. 

Dr Caroline Rumble, Consultant in Health Protection at UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) North West said: 

“The MMR vaccine offers the best protection from measles, mumps and rubella which is why we’re calling on parents and carers to make sure their children are up to date with their two doses of vaccine. 

“Measles can have serious health consequences, and it is very concerning to see falling levels of uptake of the MMR vaccine. It is absolutely crucial we make sure our children are fully vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella with both doses of the jab.

“As measles is highly infectious, even a small decrease in vaccine coverage can potentially lead to outbreaks.

“I would urge parents to check if their children are up to date with their MMR vaccines and if not to get them booked in as soon as they are able. It’s never too late to catch-up."

Tricia Spedding, Head of Public Health for NHS England and NHS Improvement North West, said:  

“Childhood vaccinations, including MMR, provide crucial protection against serious and potentially deadly illnesses, as well as stopping the spread in the community.

“If you’re a parent or guardian, please make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date and if they have missed a vaccination, don’t worry, you can contact your GP practice to book an appointment as soon as you can to make sure they have maximum protection against disease.” 

Parents who are unsure if their child is up to date with all their routine vaccinations, should check their child’s Red Book (personal child health record) in the first instance. If you are still not sure, or if you need to bring your child up to date with their vaccines, contact your GP practice to check and book an appointment. To find out more about the MMR vaccine, please visit nhs.uk/MMR for more information.