London Susceptible to Measles Outbreak Given Low Vaccine Rate

London is susceptible to an outbreak of measles as currently seen in Wales given one of the lowest vaccination rates in the U.K. a decade ago, according to a pediatric epidemiologist.

In England, the national coverage for the measles-mumps-rubella combined vaccine dipped to 80 percent in 2003, the lowest rate in more than 10 years. In London, the vaccination rate for the recommended two doses by age 5 was 55 percent that year, one of the lowest rates in the U.K., according to Helen Bedford, a pediatric epidemiologist at University College London.

The outbreak in Wales has resulted in 903 reported cases since November, according to the local health authority. Coverage rates for the MMR vaccine dropped in the U.K. and in the U.S. after a study by Andrew Wakefield, published in The Lancet medical journal in 1998, linked the vaccine to an increased risk of autism. The Lancet retracted the study in 2010, citing “false” claims, and the British Medical Journal called it a fraud in a report the following year.

“Ten years ago, MMR was getting a lot of bad press,” Bedford said in an interview in London. “It’s not surprising that coverage rates fell with parents frightened by the news reports.”

Confirmed Cases

Among the confirmed measles cases in Wales as of April 15, the largest group was among children between the ages of 10 and 14, likely because they weren’t vaccinated a decade ago, Bedford said. Coverage rates have risen in recent years and was at 91 percent in England in the 2011-2012 year.

“What we are seeing is the after-effect” of the autism scare, said Michael Fitzpatrick, a former general practitioner and author of “MMR and Autism: What Parents Need to Know.” “We are in a position where we are trying to mop up on these older children who missed out on the MMR.”

Two doses of the vaccine by the age 5 are recommended to provide 99 percent protection against measles, while only one dose provides as low as 90 percent protection, said David Elliman, an immunization specialist at the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health in London.

Measles is one of the most infectious viruses for humans, spread through coughing, sneezing and other direct contact with infected nasal and throat secretions. Last year, 2,016 confirmed cases in England and Wales were reported, the highest annual total in 18 years, according to Public Health England.

Complications from measles are particularly common among young children and can include blindness, severe diarrhea, ear infections, or pneumonia. As many as 10 percent of measles cases result in death among populations with high levels of malnutrition and inadequate health care, according to the World Health Organization.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta confirmed earlier studies that found autism risk isn’t increased by the use of childhood vaccines.

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