Wales’ Chief Medical Officer – Sir Frank Atherton – is calling on parents to ensure their children are fully vaccinated against measles and are up to date with their other childhood immunisations.
Outbreaks of measles could become more frequent in Wales unless urgent action is taken to increase Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination across the country.
Sir Frank is warning that it is essential that uptake of a full course (2 doses) of the MMR vaccine is increased to 95%, the target set by the World Health Organisation, to protect Welsh communities from a potentially devastating outbreak.
Measles spreads very easily among those who are unvaccinated, especially in nurseries and schools. Children who contract the disease can become very unwell and, in some cases, measles can lead to hospitalisation and in rare cases, tragically death.
People in certain at-risk groups including babies and young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immunity, are at increased risk of complications from measles.
MMR is part of the Routine Childhood Immunisation Programme – with one dose offered when a child is one year old and another second dose at 3 years 4 months.
Parents whose infants missed out, or anyone of any age who has not yet had a vaccine, are urged to come forward. The free MMR vaccine is a safe and effective way of protecting against measles, as well as mumps and rubella.
With Whooping Cough cases also on the rise in Wales, Sir Frank is encouraging all pregnant women and parents of young babies and children to ensure they’ve had their Pertussis (Whooping Cough) vaccinations.
Although Whooping Cough is a vaccine preventable disease, it is highly contagious, with babies under 6 months being the most at risk.
Sir Frank said:
“We need to ensure that those at risk in our communities are protected against potentially life-threatening viral infections like measles and whooping cough.
Measles can cause children to become very ill and some who contract it will suffer life changing complications. Parents can protect their children by checking they are fully vaccinated and where they are not, arranging for vaccination as soon as possible.
Babies under the age of one, cannot receive the vaccine. It is therefore essential that all those who are eligible, are fully vaccinated. This will help stop the spread of measles and will help protect our youngest children”.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Chris Jones has written to all health boards asking them to take urgent action to ensure at least 90% of students in every school in Wales is fully vaccinated by 31 July 2024. This targeted intervention will complement MMR catch-up work already being undertaken by health boards.
Dr Jones said: “In the event of an outbreak, students and staff who are unvaccinated or under vaccinated could be asked to isolate for up to 21 days to stop the spread of this very virulent disease.
“We know how disruptive this can be to the education and wellbeing of our young people and we must do everything possible to avoid it”.
“Public Health Wales, the NHS and the Welsh Government will be working closely on further plans to boost MMR uptake levels in the coming months”.