Boris Johnson orders urgent action to boost vaccination rates after measles rise
19 August 2019, 01:37 | Updated: 19 August 2019, 08:48
The prime minister is demanding urgent action to improve the UK's declining vaccination rates.
A steady fall in the uptake of the MMR jab means the UK has now lost its measles free status, just three years after the virus was eliminated.
Currently, only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the vaccine.
Boris Johnson wants that figure increased to 95% and is setting out action for health leaders.
This includes writing to all GPs and asking them to promote catch-up programmes for children and young people who haven't had both doses of the MMR.
The government will also improve the advice on the NHS website, as well as targeting areas with particularly low vaccination rates.
Social media companies will be invited to a summit to explore how they can better promote accurate vaccination information.
The drop in vaccination rates is thought to be partly to blame for the recent spread of measles in the UK.
In the first quarter of 2019 there were 231 confirmed cases of the virus.
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Mr Johnson said "decisive action" was needed to ensure communities were properly immunised.
"From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable disease in modern-day Britain."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who recently said he wouldn't rule out considering compulsory vaccination, added: "It's easy to forget how devastating measles can be precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place.
"With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations, especially for our children, and this will time we will eliminate measles for good."
Child health experts say there are a number of reasons why vaccination uptake is falling.
Professor Helen Bedford, from UCL's Institute of Child Health, told Sky News: "I think it's partly because there are a lots pressure on general practice and it's harder to make appointments. But there is also increased pressure on family lives.
"A lot of the under-immunisation we're seeing is not because parents don't want the vaccine, it's simply because they've not got round to it or they can't make an appointment easily."
She believes better access and information for parents will boost vaccination rates.
It is a view shared by Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England.
Dr Ramsay said: "Losing our measles-free status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated.
"Making it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life is a priority for us.
"This will be crucial to the UK achieving elimination status again in future."