The Hamilton Spectator

Britain Fights Measles And Low Vaccine Rates

- By MEGAN SPECIA

LONDON — The 5-yearold looked wide-eyed at the cheerful nurse as a needle was swiftly stuck into her arm, the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine administer­ed.

“All done, very brave!” the nurse said a moment later.

Michael Nnagbo, 40, had brought his three children to this pop-up vaccine clinic in Wolverhamp­ton in England’s West Midlands after receiving a notice from their school about a measles outbreak in the nearby Birmingham area.

“It’s what we have to do, and it’s important to do,” he said. “I just want them to be safe.”

Cases of measles, a highly contagious but easily preventabl­e disease, have begun to crop up in clusters as the number of children receiving the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has declined globally. The trend worsened after the Covid pandemic. Measles can cause serious illness and even death.

Across Europe, measles cases rose over 40-fold in 2023 compared with a year earlier — to over 40,000 — according to the World Health Organizati­on. And while much of that increase was concentrat­ed in lower-income nations like Kazakhstan, more prosperous nations, where higher vaccinatio­n rates had long made cases of measles rare, are also experienci­ng outbreaks.

In Britain, 650 cases of measles were confirmed from October 1 through February, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency. Most of the cases are in children under 10.

Vaccine coverage has waned to precarious rates in some communitie­s, particular­ly those facing high levels of deprivatio­n. That was mainly the result of a lack of resources and awareness, and some culturally driven hesitancy, experts said.

England no longer has the levels of vaccine coverage recommende­d by the World Health Organizati­on, which advises that over 95 percent of people must have had two doses of a measles vaccine.

England had 84.5 percent measles vaccine coverage by the end of 2023, but in some areas it was lower. London had a rate of 73.1 percent overall.

Carol Dezateux, a professor of pediatric epidemiolo­gy at Queen Mary University of London, said the current measles outbreak was predictabl­e, as immunizati­ons had fallen to low levels even before the pandemic. The causes were complex, she said, but the lockdowns and worries about exposure to

An immunizati­on trend grows worse after the pandemic.

the coronaviru­s made the problem worse.

Vaccinatio­n rates for children in England have been steadily declining over the last decade, partly because of a lack of resources.

The coverage gap has been difficult to close in some areas, Dr. Dezateux said, because pressure has fallen onto general practition­ers in the country’s National Health Service who are stretched thin.

Still, the cost of prevention is about 4 percent of the cost of an outbreak, she said, showing the need for a plan to work toward better vaccine uptake.

“We know that where resources are brought in, then people can do more,” she said.

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