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Measles

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the reasons for the increase in the number of confirmed cases of measles in children aged under 18 years in (a) London and (b) England since 1997. (252938)

The Department consider that the rise in the number of confirmed cases of measles in children under 18 years of age in both London and the rest of England is a result of a decade of relatively low measles, mumps and rubella vaccination uptake. The potential exposure of a large number of unprotected children to the measles virus means that there is a real risk of a large measles epidemic.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps his Department is taking to reduce differences between the regions in the number of confirmed cases of measles recorded each year; (252939)

(2) what steps his Department is taking to reduce the number of cases of measles in those under 18.

The way to reduce the number of confirmed cases of measles recorded each year is to increase the number of children vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Childhood immunisation is a ‘tier 2 Vital Sign' which means it is a NHS priority. As such, primary care trusts (PCTs) must set targets to improve vaccination uptake and agree these with their strategic health authorities (SHAs). The SHAs, with the help of the Department, monitor the PCTs against these targets.

In addition to the routine MMR vaccination programme, on 6 August the Department launched a MMR vaccine catchup campaign. The aim of the campaign is to immunise all children between one and 18 years of age who are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated with MMR vaccine. The Department has secured additional MMR vaccine that is supplied free of charge to all PCTs. Over £5 million has been transferred to PCTs to help support this programme.

Recently the Department sent all general practitioners (GPs) surgeries new measles leaflets and posters and updated its immunisation website to launch the MMR campaign with a new measles landing page including press lines and questions and answers for PCTs to use.

PCTs have also received multiple alerts through various Departmental communications including the PCT Chief Executives bulletin ‘the week', ‘GP bulletin', ‘Vaccine Update' newsletter and the Chief Medical Officer's Winter Update newsletter.

A public relations campaign is planned to start in late February to support the MMR vaccination.

We also underlined our commitment to immunisation by stating that immunisation is a ‘right’ in the NHS constitution.