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Parents urged to book any missed MMR vaccine appointments after warning of 'real risk' of measles outbreaks

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Parents and carers are being urged to get their children vaccinated after UK health experts warn of the "real risk" of a measles outbreak.

With cases rising across the country, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has declared a national incident - warning that measles could spread rapidly causing a national outbreak of the vaccine-preventable disease.

Across the North East and North Cumbria uptake of the mumps, measles and rubella vaccine (MMR) remains the highest in England, however the number of children getting their second dose of the vaccine has now fallen below 95%, the national target required to avoid outbreaks and the rapid spread of the disease.

Now, NHS health teams across the North East and North Cumbria are calling on parents and carers to urgently book any missed MMR vaccinations, with their GP practice, to ensure they and their children are fully protected.

Dr Neil O'Brien, medical director, North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board (ICB) said: "Measles is a highly infectious illness - complications can be life changing with dangers including blindness, deafness and swelling of the brain.

"Spending just 15 minutes or more in direct contact with someone infected is enough to catch measles, making it one of the most infectious diseases in the world.

"Anyone over two, that has not yet had their MMR vaccination, is at risk of catching this very serious but completely preventable disease - which is highly likely to spread rapidly if people remain unvaccinated.

"Anyone whose immunity is compromised, including pregnant women, is also at increased risk of severe disease from measles."

Children require two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first dose given around their first birthday and the second dose given at three years and four months old. Both doses are required to ensure full and lasting protection against MMR.

In 2022/23, of the 33,937 five years olds in the North East and North Cumbria, (96%) received their first MMR vaccination however, only (91%) received their second.

"Whilst overall MMR rates in our region are good, there are still some localised places where it is not high enough to prevent a rapid spread of measles - including areas of Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool," said Dr O'Brien.

"We know that vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical invention in history and the MMR vaccine is one of the most studied vaccines in the world, with millions of doses given every year, therefore ensuring your children are properly immunised is one of the most important things you can do.

"So please, check with your GP practice now and make sure you and your children are up to date with both MMR doses - it's never too late to catch up, whatever your age."

Colin Cox, director of public health for Cumbria and lead for health protection among directors of public health in the North East and North Cumbria, added: "Sadly, the current rise in measles cases across the country is not surprising - while most people do get the MMR vaccine, and are protected, measles spreads so easily that even if only one in ten people are not vaccinated it's still possible for outbreaks to happen.

"Measles can be a very serious illness but getting vaccinated is safe, free of charge and offers the best possible protection."

Measles symptoms include:

  • high fever
  • sore, red, watery eyes
  • coughing
  • aching and feeling generally unwell
  • a blotchy red brown rash, which usually appears after the initial symptoms.

'The treatment I have received from all the staff has been excellent and could you extend my thanks to them all. A very thankful and relieved patient'.

Patient, Dermatology Outpatients Department, University Hospital of North Durham