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expert reaction report that says over 20 million children worldwide missed out on measles vaccine annually in past 8 years

A report published by UNICEF states that over 20 million children worldwide missed out on measles vaccine annually in past 8 years, creating a pathway to current global outbreaks.

Professor Beate Kampmann, Director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“These figures from UNICEF are a further wake-up call and underpin the measles outbreaks we are seeing around the world.

“There are a variety of reasons why people might not be immunised such as concerns over safety, supply issues and complacency. One thing is certain though: a single person with measles will be able to infect 90 other people who are not immune. Measles is highly infectious even before the typical rash appears so you cannot simply ‘keep away’.

“We must protect children and communities against this potentially very serious but entirely preventable infectious disease – and the only way to do that is through vaccination.”

Prof Helen Bedford, Professor of Child Public Health, Institute of Child Health, University College London (UCL), said:

“Such large outbreaks of measles are a major concern and pose a serious threat to children’s health. Globally, most parents have their children immunised, but measles is so highly infectious that any gaps in immunity are a threat. Strong political commitment, well organised accessible and affordable immunisation services, an assured supply of vaccines and health care workers who are equipped to respond effectively to parents’ questions and concerns are the fundamentals needed. Concerted action is urgently required to meet this challenge but will differ between countries and communities just as the causes of outbreaks differ.

“In UK, 95% of five-year-old children have received one dose of MMR vaccine. While more work is needed to ensure a similar high uptake of two doses of MMR to ensure best protection against measles, vaccine confidence is high and vaccination is seen as the normal thing to do.”

Professor Arne Akbar, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that can lead to very serious complications, including death. Because the measles virus spreads so easily between individuals, it’s vital that a high percentage of population is vaccinated to block this spread – the World Health Organization state we need 95% coverage.

“The figures presented in the UNICEF report are very concerning, both in terms of the steep rise of measles cases globally and the number of children who haven’t completed the full vaccination schedule. We have a safe and effective vaccine at hand that stops people contracting measles and we need to ensure children benefit from the protection it confers against this nasty disease.

“In the UK, we also saw a steep rise in measles cases in 2018, particularly in teenagers and young adults who missed out on their MMR vaccine when they were younger – this trend needs to be reversed. In the last annual statistics, vaccination coverage for England was 91% of children receiving the first MMR vaccine by their second birthday, with 87% receiving the second dose of the vaccine by their fifth birthday. We should be doing better to protect our communities, with Government, NHS and local authorities working together to achieve this.

“Parents who are concerned should talk to their GP in the first instance. If you or your child has missed out on the benefits of vaccination, it’s not too late to get immunised. Don’t regret it by waiting to catch one of these diseases.”

Dr Jonathan Kennedy, Lecturer in Global Public Health at Queen Mary University of London, said:

“It is necessary for 95% of the population to be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity, the point at which measles does not spread throughout the population. This is important because herd immunity protects people who cannot be vaccinated due to their compromised immune system, which includes children who are undergoing chemotherapy. Therefore when parents choose not to vaccinate they don’t just put their own children at risk, some of the most vulnerable people in society become even more vulnerable.”

“Vaccines are some of the greatest achievements of medical science, and they are estimated by WHO to save between 2 and 3 million lives a year. But WHO also estimates that if vaccine coverage was increased, a further 1.5 million lives could be saved each year. Historically, the major barrier to raising vaccination rates was poor supply in low and middle income countries, but now it is relates to falling demand – vaccine refusal in other words – among parents in high income countries.

“Increased vaccine refusal is clearly linked with the rise in support for populist parties. In both cases, the driving force is increasing anger and suspicion towards elites and experts. In the political sphere, this is focused on traditionally dominant centre left and centre right parties and politicians. With public health, it manifests as incredulity and hostility towards the government bodies and medical doctors who insist on the importance and safety of vaccines like MMR.”

Prof Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics, University of Bristol, said:

“Having your child fully immunised against measles and other childhood infections should be as automatic and straightforward as teaching them how feed themselves and sending them to school. It should be a no-brainer.

“All governments should make the vaccines available, free of charge and locally to all families and should reliably and persistently encourage stragglers and keep accurate, up to date records for all children in their geography.

“In partnership with media outlets and the platforms people use to access and share information, they should provide accurate, evidence-based, easily comprehensible explanations of what the vaccines are, what they do and why they are important so people have their children immunised because they know it makes sense to do so.

“Failing to do all of this is ludicrous both in terms of the consequent human suffering and the resources wasted.

“UNICEF is delivering a clear message to all of us in public service to get our act together.

“If we insist on playing the blame game – then we should be blaming ourselves not parents and “anti-vaxxers” when things are not done right.

“It’s what we are paid to do and we have a joint responsibility to deliver.

“If we fail we are letting down the next generation just as negligently as by filling the seas with plastic and the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.”

Dr Philip Minor, Retired, National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), said:

“What do you expect when the President of The United States dissed measles vaccine?
You either get vaccine or get measles it is that simple ”

Declared interests

Prof Kampmann: “No conflicts”

Prof Bedford: “No COIs”

Prof Finn: “Adam Finn does advisory work related to vaccines for the UK government, the World Health Organisation and several companies developing vaccines. He also leads clinical trials of vaccines funded by the UK government, charities and vaccine manufacturers. He receives no personal remuneration or benefits in kind for any of this work apart from his salary via the University of Bristol from the Higher Education Funding Council and the NHS.”

None others received

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