Last reviewed 28 August 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling for urgent action to ensure that children and young people in Britain are protected against measles.

Although the disease can be stopped through two doses of the MMR vaccine, immunisation rates have been falling. Estimates suggest that, in England, one in seven five-year-olds has yet to be fully immunised. Just 87% of children in England are receiving their second dose, which is offered before they start school; this is below the 95% target for measles elimination. Uptake in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has been higher than in England but still below target.

In the first quarter of 2019, there were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK. The UK has now lost its measles-free status, three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

Many of the UK cases were acquired abroad with some onward spread in under-vaccinated communities.

Boris Johnson announced that GPs are being asked to promote catch-up vaccinations for children who may have missed out on both doses; social media companies are being urged to quash misleading anti-vaccine messages; firms will be invited to a summit to explore how they can better promote accurate vaccination information; and the Government will also use the NHS website to address misleading claims about the safety of vaccines.

He said: "There's a number of reasons why people don't get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.

"From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that, with this strategy, the whole health system “will come together to renew focus on vaccinations, especially for our children, and this time we will eliminate measles for good."

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Chair Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said: "We are still suffering from the now entirely debunked MMR scandal of the nineties, and it is potentially disastrous that as a result so many young people are now susceptible to serious, often life-threatening infectious diseases, such as measles, that we could have completely eradicated in this country if this had never happened.

"People who were not vaccinated as children need to understand that it is not too late to have their MMR jab and we would urge them to do so."

Measles is now endemic in countries including France, Germany and Italy.

And the World Health Organization has confirmed that measles cases nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period in 2018.