measles injectionOne million schoolchildren in England who missed MMR jabs are to be targeted by a vaccination plan aimed at curbing the growing threat of measles.

Health officials warn epidemics similar to the one in Swansea, which has seen nearly 900 cases, could occur anywhere.

MMR scares
There are fears that a generation of children have low levels of protection after the MMR scare a decade ago.

The catch-up campaign, run through GPs, schools and community groups, will focus on children aged 10 to 16.

Wake-up call for parents
Prof David Salisbury, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said parents needed to act to prevent outbreaks on their doorstep.

"Swansea is the wake-up call for parents and it tells us just how infectious measles is - it just spreads like wildfire. If you think your child has not had one or even two doses of MMR, for goodness' sake contact your GP and get it sorted out. The message from Swansea is very clear and it is trivialised at the risk of your children's health."

Highly contagious disease
The campaign is expected to cost £20m and the Department of Health already has 1.2 million vaccines ready to go. It will aim to vaccinate children yet to be protected with the MMR - measles, mumps and rubella - jab by September.

Measles is a highly contagious disease characterised by a high fever and a rash. In one in 15 cases it can lead to severe complications, such as pneumonia and inflammation of the brain, and can be fatal.

In 2012, there were nearly 2,000 cases of measles in England - the highest figure for nearly two decades. Figures from Public Health England suggest that number could again increase this year with 587 confirmed cases in the first three months of 2013.

Discredited research
Children aged between 10 and 16 are the most likely to have missed jabs when subsequently discredited research linked MMR with autism and caused vaccination rates to plummet.

Vaccination rates have since recovered to record levels but the most urgent need for vaccination is in the third-of-a-million completely unprotected children in that age group. They should be given their first MMR jab before the next school year and a booster jab later.Posted 25/04/2013 by richard.hook@pavpub.com