UK loses WHO measles elimination status, but cases remain low in Wales

In 2016, along with the rest of the UK, Wales was certified that endemic measles transmission had been eliminated. The World Health Organization (WHO) Europe recently announced that the UK lost this status in 2018.

Wales has not seen increases in measles cases over the past three years and is well-placed to maintain control of measles.

Dr Richard Roberts, Head of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Programme at Public Health Wales said: “Due to high uptake of two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in Wales, we have had only five confirmed cases of measles so far in 2019.

“Latest uptake of MMR vaccine in Wales for dose one is 94.6% by the 2nd birthday and 97.2% at the 5th birthday, and for dose two at five years of age is 92.4%  (Jan-Mar 2019).”

Where there have been small outbreaks of measles these have been due to imported disease in each of the last three years, but none of the outbreaks exceeded 21 confirmed cases or lasted longer than a few months.

To help maintain measles elimination in Wales Public Health Wales and NHS organisations throughout the country have developed a comprehensive action plan to maintain measles elimination in Wales. Immediate actions include:

Our ‘Back to School’ social media campaign to remind parents of the importance of immunisation including MMR

Our ‘Starting University’ social media campaign targeting first time college students and school leavers to highlight the importance of the MMR and MenACWY vaccines – which also protects against four different strains of the meningococcal bacteria that cause meningitis and blood poisoning (septicaemia) – this autumn.

Publication of ‘Wales Measles and Rubella Elimination Task Group Action Plan 2019-2021’ setting out system wide measures across NHS Wales to maintain elimination of measles and rubella.

Measles is one of the most infectious of all disease and still claims lives across Europe and the rest of the world.

All children should have received two doses of MMR before they start school. But it’s never too late if you missed vaccination. We would encourage anyone born from 1970 onwards who has missed out on one or both MMR vaccinations to contact their GP to arrange to catch up. This is especially important for those travelling to areas of Europe, which may be affected by measles outbreaks.

Public Health Wales is also urging all parents and young people to make sure that they include ‘checking immunisations are up to date’ to their ‘list of things to do’ before the start of the new academic year. This will help reduce the spread of vaccine preventable disease while you or your child are learning and socialising with new people. 

A list of free routine vaccines offered to children and young people in Wales can be found from NHS Direct Wales.

If you are not sure whether you or your child are up to date with routine childhood vaccines, you can check your Red Book or contact your GP surgery, health visitor, school nurse or school immunisation team.