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expert reaction to reported measles outbreaks in Leeds and Liverpool

It has been reported that there is an outbreak of measles in both Leeds and Liverpool.


Dr Jeremy Rossman, Senior Lecturer in Virology, University of Kent, said:

“Measles is one of the most contagious viruses know and whilst typical symptoms are flu-like with a rash, in a small number of cases life threatening complications can arise.  Measles can infect both children and adults, but can be prevented with just two rounds of the MMR vaccine.  Each year England has occasional small measles outbreaks stemming from imported cases (just over 500 cases in 2016); however, the high percentage of vaccinated children has prevented these small outbreaks from spreading (90-95% of children in England have had their first dose of the MMR vaccine by age 5).

“At present, it is unclear how many cases of measles have been seen in Leeds and Liverpool, but given the percentage of the population that is vaccinated, it is highly unlikely that these current outbreaks will spread across the country.  The NHS has advised those in the Leeds-Liverpool area that have not been vaccinated but have measles like symptoms to remain at home and phone their GP for advice, in order to prevent further spread of the virus.  In addition, they recommend that individuals who not had two doses of the MMR vaccine to visit their GP to receive the vaccine.  The vaccine is safe, effective and freely available.  Anyone who has received two doses of the MMR vaccine is already protected.”


Prof. Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College, London, said:

“News of any potential measles outbreak is always concerning.  Measles is a highly infectious viral disease that can lead to extremely serious complications for those affected.  Since 1968, there has been a vaccine available to protect against measles, which has revolutionised the health of our children, with the number of cases dropping from almost half a million per year before the vaccine was introduced to numbers in the low hundreds each year now.

“However, more still needs to be done to ensure that new measles outbreaks do not occur.  Children should routinely receive two vaccines against measles as part of the MMR vaccine, at ages 1 and 3 years, 4 months.  England’s coverage currently stands at 92% of children receiving the first MMR vaccine by their second birthday, with 88% receiving the second vaccine by their fifth birthday1.  This is substantially lower than the World Health Organization recommended levels of 95% coverage at these time points to ensure outbreaks do not occur.

“The UK is a world leader in vaccine research and we need to ensure that this excellence is reflected in the provision of vaccines to our children to prevent disease, with Government, NHS and local authorities working together to achieve this.  This not only protects the children themselves, but also people in our communities who are vulnerable because of health problems.

“If your child has missed a vaccine, they can still catch up and receive it.  Parents who are concerned should talk to their GP in the first instance.”

1 NHS Digital 2017 Childhood Vaccination Coverage Statistics for England 2016-17


Prof. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said:

“MMR vaccine uptake has been declining over the past few years and if it falls too much it can put a population at risk of outbreaks.  Especially for viruses like measles, which is spread so easily – it is one of the most infectious viruses we know so you have to get very high vaccine coverage within a population to prevent outbreaks from happening.

“This why it is so important to vaccinate your children and, if you haven’t been vaccinated before, to do so now.”


Dr Kevin Pollock, Honorary Lecturer in the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, University of Glasgow, said:

“I think given the high uptake of MMR 1 and 2, it is unlikely to develop into a national outbreak. The most susceptible cohorts are obviously those children who might have missed their MMR vaccine due to the Wakefield scandal (born in 1998-2002). Those are older teenagers (15-19) who may not have had both doses so they would be urged in particular to get their 2nd dose (or indeed 1st) dose of MMR should they have any concerns. Typical symptoms of measles can be found on the NHS Choice website.”


Dr David Elliman, Consultant in Community Child Health and RCPCH (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) paediatrician, said:

“Although the uptake of the both doses of MMR vaccine is high in UK, because measles is so infectious, it is not yet high enough to stop outbreaks, as we are seeing. Anyone who was born after 1970 and has not had two doses of the vaccine should contact their GP or practice nurse. Anyone who suspects they or one of their children has measles should contact their GP or dcall 111. They should not go to the surgery or to hospital without doing this as there is a danger they could pass on the illness.”


Prof. Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, University of Oxford, said:

“Measles is a very serious disease and outbreaks can kill the most vulnerable people in the population, especially young children. It isn’t too late for anyone who has missed the vaccine to be vaccinated today, and that could be life-saving.”



Declared interests

Dr Kevin Pollock: “No conflicts of interest to report.”

None others received.

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