Children should not be allowed to start school unless they have had the MMR vaccination, senior GPs have said.
They have urged the Government to have four and five-year-old pupils’ vaccination statuses checked before they start their education.
In a letter seen by our sister publication Pulse, London CCG chairs Sir Sam Everington, Dr Mohini Parmar, Dr Andrew Parson and Dr Josephine Sauvage told health secretary Matt Hancock and education secretary Gavin Williamson that although the serious public health risk of people not being vaccinated against measles is now being realised, it will continue to grow as a ‘major health issue’ if not reversed.
Sir Sam Everington, chair of all 32 of the capital’s CCGs, told Pulse: ‘There are a number of reasons for sending this letter. The Prime Minister recently highlighted the urgent action required within the health service to address the rise in measles, but GPs need help in implementing this.
‘We are doing all we can but are already overstretched, so the community must play a role in the efforts.
‘I’ve seen patients dying of measles, but people can forget about its risks. We’ve become comfortable in the UK, but with increased travel in a globalised world, we face the same risks as other countries.
‘Worldwide, there’s a one in 75 chance of dying of measles – while it’s eradicable, it’s much harder to treat. The eradication level for diseases is classed as 95%, so this should be a crucial part of public health policy. We need something extra to counteract the fake claims that sometimes circulate on social media.’
He added that the Department of Education should have its own chief medical officer.
The letter referenced how smallpox was eliminated through vaccination becoming mandatory for children born after 1853, and acknowledged that the proposal could allow for ‘exemptions for either conscientious objection or medical contraindication’. Children with leukaemia, for example, are additionally vulnerable as they cannot be vaccinated but could have their lives put at risk from exposure to the virus.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, was ‘disheartened’ to see a rise in ‘serious but entirely preventable diseases like measles and mumps when efforts to eradicate them had been going so well’.
She added: ‘We know that the majority of destructive anti-vax messages are circulating online, and this is where we need to focus our efforts to cut through the confusion.
‘As GPs, we have an important relationship with our patients, built on trust and understanding, and in order to keep that we need to help people make their own decisions. Positive, informed and educated choice is always going to be more desirable long-term, and we are concerned that rushing down the route of enforcing methods of healthcare could have unintended consequences.’
Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care shared their commitment to ‘driving up uptake rates further’ and that their new strategy will ‘draw together concerted efforts across the health system’.
In 2017, the World Health Organization declared that the UK had eliminated measles, but recently rescinded this status on the basis of the amount of cases reported during just the following year.
Last week, Public Health England also urged eligible patients to get vaccinated against measles and mumps, after the second quarter of this year saw the highest amount of mumps cases in a decade.