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Measles vaccine reminder following outbreak in Europe

21 April 2017

​A major measles outbreak in parts of Europe has prompted a warning to parents in Jersey about the importance of protecting their children with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

The current European outbreak, which has seen Italy and Romania particularly badly affected, coincides with European Immunisation Week (24- 30 April) and has prompted the advice from the Health and Social Services Department (HSSD) to parents about MMR vaccination.

Dr Linda Diggle, Head of Preventive Programmes, said "Uptake of immunisation is generally high in Jersey, however the European outbreak and the deaths it is causing show just how important it is for all children to be vaccinated. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases – it can be caught by an unvaccinated person by spending just 15 minutes in the same room with someone who is infected. It’s vital we maintain high levels of vaccination in Jersey to ensure measles doesn’t affect our children."

Maximum protection

Latest local figures (provisional 2016 annual statistics) reveal that 97 % of children in Jersey had received at least one MMR vaccine dose by five years of age. Of those, 92 % had received the recommended two-dose course that is required to ensure maximum protection before children start school.

Dr Susan Turnbull, Medical Officer of Health, added "With a high proportion of Jersey’s children protected by immunisation, the measles virus is unlikely to spread effectively here.  However parents of un-immunised children should be aware of the risk to their child if travelling on holiday to areas where there are or may be measles outbreaks. The current outbreaks make it very timely, with the holiday season approaching, to remind everyone what a very unpleasant, and potentially serious, life-threatening infection measles still is."

Childhood killer

Worldwide, measles is the largest childhood killer among all vaccine-preventable diseases, taking the lives of almost one million people each year. The measles virus is highly contagious and can live up to two hours outside the body, travelling through the air from victim to victim. The current European outbreak has seen measles cases rising in

  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • Switzerland
  • Ukraine

A small number of cases have also occurred in mainland Portugal.

The worst-affected countries are Italy and Romania, with babies and young children being the most affected. Between 1 January 2016 and 31 March 2017, Romania has reported 4,025 cases of measles, including 18 deaths. The majority of measles cases have been concentrated in areas where vaccination uptake is especially low.

Equal access to vaccines

Dr Diggle added "Ten years ago, HSSD worked with local GPs to improve the childhood immunisation system in Jersey, which included our hospital pharmacy sourcing childhood vaccines from the NHS to ensure a regular supply to surgeries and making childhood vaccines freely available for parents. These factors ensure GPs have access to the same, safe, thoroughly tested vaccines as are used in the NHS and that all parents in Jersey, regardless of income, have equal access for their children to the recommended vaccinations. We also aim to ensure parents know where to obtain local advice if they have any concerns.

"Sadly, it’s the false allegations and scaremongering that were made against the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s that still casts a long shadow over immunisation, particularly in some countries. This has meant that, despite overwhelming evidence of safety and effectiveness, some parents have remained sceptical and immunisation rates in some countries have never really recovered since the 1990s – these are the countries now being affected by this measles outbreak."

Any parent who is unsure if their child received two doses of the MMR vaccine before school age should speak to their GP, or contact the Immunisation Nurse Specialist on 445790.

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