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MMR vaccination urged amid rising concern over measles

Published: 5 February 2024

Public Health Wales is urging parents and guardians to ensure their children are fully vaccinated against measles and are up to date with their other childhood immunisations. This comes amid warnings that outbreaks of measles could become more frequent unless action is taken to increase measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination. 

The first dose of MMR is usually given to babies at 12 months of age and the second just after three years of age, but it is never too late to catch up on missed doses.  Parents of children who have not yet reached the age to receive their second dose don’t need to take any action. 

Measles symptoms include a distinctive red or brown rash that may be more difficult to see on darker skin.  The rash follows a fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes (conjunctivitis), and children with these symptoms should be kept home from school, nursery or other childcare settings, and away from vulnerable people. 

In a statement issued on Monday, February 5, Wales’ Chief Medical Officer Sir Frank Atherton said it is essential that uptake of a full course (two doses) of the MMR vaccine is increased to 95 per cent, the target set by the World Health Organisation, to protect Welsh communities from an outbreak. With whooping cough cases also on the rise in Wales, Sir Frank is also encouraging all pregnant women and parents of young babies and children to ensure they’ve had their pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations. 

Sir Frank said: “We need to ensure that those at risk in our communities are protected against potentially life-threatening viral infections like measles and whooping cough. 

“Measles can cause children to become very ill and some who contract it will suffer life changing complications. Parents can protect their children by checking they are fully vaccinated and where they are not, arranging for vaccination as soon as possible. 

“Babies under the age of one, cannot receive the vaccine.  It is therefore essential that all those who are eligible, are fully vaccinated.  This will help stop the spread of measles and will help protect our youngest children.” 

Dr Christopher Johnson, Consultant Epidemiologist and Head of Public Health Wales’ Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme, said: “Measles is highly infectious and the only way to prevent outbreaks is through vaccination.  We urge parents whose children have not received two doses of MMR as offered to ensure that they speak to their GP surgery to arrange this quick, safe and effective vaccine. If children are not yet old enough to receive their second dose, they don’t need to have this earlier than scheduled. 

“At the same time, we are also seeing a resurgence of whooping cough this year. Whooping cough is highly contagious and is spread by breathing in small droplets in the air from other people’s coughs and sneezes. Babies under six months old are at most risk. It can be very serious and lead to pneumonia and permanent brain damage. Young babies with whooping cough are at risk of dying from the disease. 

“We would urge all pregnant women and parents of babies and young children to ensure they take up their offer of vaccination when given, or to ask their GP, midwife or health visitor if they believe they may not have had it.”