As charity, The British Polio Fellowship celebrates its 85th anniversary, their Chief Executive urges parents to protect their children against highly infectious diseases like polio and measles.
His comments come as the cases of measles have surged in England and Wales, and doctors warned of the biggest outbreak since the 1970s.
New figures published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show there were 1,603 suspected cases of measles in England and Wales in 2023. An increase from 735 the year before and less than 400 in 2021. Scotland and Northern Ireland reported no confirmed cases of measles for last year.
A “national incident” was declared by UK health officials earlier this month after hundreds of confirmed or likely cases were identified in the West Midlands between October 2023 and January 2024.
The outbreak has been explained by a fall in a general vaccination uptake by parents since the pandemic.
“The UK saw large outbreaks of highly contagious, life-threatening diseases back in the 1940s and 1950s. Thankfully, we haven’t experienced this type of thing in the UK for many years. Why is that? Because of the childhood vaccination programme that was introduced by the NHS back in the 1950s” explained Kripen Dhrona, Chief Executive Officer at The British Polio Fellowship.
Vaccinations against polio, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough) were introduced for children by 1956.
The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine has been used since the early 1980s and as a two-dose schedule provides over 99% protection.
“Parents should think carefully before opting out of having their children vaccinated” Dhrona continued.
“These vaccinations against highly infectious diseases are tried and tested. Children have been given them for years and it is because of these vaccines, viruses like measles and polio (or poliomyelitis) have been controlled.
“Unless parents ensure their children are protected, there will be a gap which the virus won’t hesitate to fill.
“The Fellowship will celebrate its 85th anniversary on 29 January. We have seen the long-term impacts devastating diseases like polio, can have. Many polio survivors who contracted the virus as a child thought they had recovered fully from the disease, but symptoms have returned and worsen in later life.”
Measles, like polio is a highly infectious virus and, in the UK, around 1 in 5,000 children die from the infection. It can often be more severe in grown adults.
There is no treatment for measles, patients can only manage the cold-like symptoms and high temperature, followed by a rash. The rash generally appears first on the face and can spread all over the body. The virus can be passed on up to four days before a rash appears.
Experts are concerned that because of vaccine hesitancy there is now a very real risk of seeing big outbreaks in London.
Chief nurse for the NHS in London, Jane Clegg warned NHS England last May that “London has historically had lower rates of routine childhood vaccinations than other regions and this was made worse by the pandemic.
“We all want to keep children safe and protected from serious illness, which is why we’re doing everything we can to support parents across London to ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations, especially polio and MMR. These vaccines will increase children’s protection and have been safely given to millions of children.”
The NHS recommends two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose given at 12 - 15 months of age and the second dose at 4 - 6 years of age.
There are five vaccinations needed for full protection against the polio virus. The first polio vaccine is given as part of a 6-in-1 vaccination at 8, 12 and 16 weeks old. The fourth dose is a pre-school booster given at 3 years, 4 months old (part of the 4-in-1 vaccination) and finally a teenage booster given at 14 years old (part of the 3-in-1 vaccination).
As measle cases continue to rise, experts stress how crucial it is that parents have their children vaccinated.
To check if your child is up to date with their vaccinations look at their red book or ask your GP practice. If any doses have been missed, you can make an appointment at your GP practice to catch up and make sure they become protected.