City ‘at risk’ of measles outbreak

Liverpool faces a “high risk” of a measles outbreak as efforts increase to boost vaccination take up.

Earlier this year, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident following a “significant increase” in the highly contagious infection since October 2023. New documents to be discussed by the Liverpool Health and Wellbeing Board later this week have outlined how while previous vaccination rates against measles have been excellent, coverage is currently low.

A new campaign is being launched by Liverpool Council to encourage vaccination, with 20% of children not currently vaccinated by their second birthday.

The MMR vaccine covers measles, mumps and rubella with two doses needed for full protection. A report on the city’s measles outbreak preparedness said: “Although vaccination rates have been excellent in Liverpool in the past, Liverpool currently has very low MMR vaccination coverage – the lowest in the North West and lowest of the core cities, slightly lower than Birmingham which is currently experiencing a large outbreak.”

The report said as a result, there is a high risk of an outbreak in Liverpool.

Uptake of MMR dropped sharply over the pandemic with data indicating how in Liverpool, 80.7% of children have had their first dose of MMR by age two. The report added: “Measles is highly infectious and spreads easily to people who have not been vaccinated with the two doses of MMR they need, or who have only had one dose of MMR vaccine. 

“It can cause serious illness, particularly in babies under one, unvaccinated pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.”

Cllr Harry Doyle, Liverpool Council cabinet member for public health, said, “Immunisation provides lifetime protection against serious diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella and a high uptake level is vital if we are to prevent future outbreaks and epidemics. The current measles outbreaks in other parts of the country are a stark reminder of the consequences of a falling vaccination rate.”

Across Liverpool, there are also wide inequalities in vaccination uptake across GP practice populations and geographical areas. Only 71% are fully vaccinated.

Liverpool experienced a large outbreak of measles in 2012/13 despite MMR uptake being higher than the national average at the time. 

The outbreak led to high pressure on healthcare and public health systems, with more than 2,500 cases across Merseyside. At that time, the estimated cost was £4.4m, 40% of which accounted for public health. 

Professor Matt Ashton, Liverpool’s Director of Public Health, said, “The overall uptake rate for both doses of MMR in Liverpool is 71% and falls way short of the 95% target to prevent outbreaks. The World Health Organization recently repeated their warning on the growing measles threat precisely because of a reduction in vaccine take-up and we need to make sure we do everything we can to mitigate the risks of serious illness in children.

“Getting vaccinated is free and easy, so we’re urging anyone with a child who has not been vaccinated to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice for any missed MMR jabs.”

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