Measles is a dangerous illness that can be life threatening for young children. Having the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination has been the subject of much debate in recent years but the MMR vaccine is now thought to be the safest way to protect ourselves and others from this highly infectious virus.
Recent news reports suggest that due to a decline in uptake of the MMR vaccine in the last decade, cases of measles in the UK are rising steadily. It is now thought that a measles outbreak in London could be imminent as almost half of the capital’s children have not had the MMR. Are you vaccinated against measles? Dr Andrew Raffles, Consultant Paediatrician at The Portland Hospital, shares his view on the importance of this vaccination.
How common is measles in the UK?
Measles was once a very common illness in the UK and thousands of children died every year from the condition in the last century. The development of an effective routine vaccination, the MMR vaccine, ensured that cases declined to as few as 1 per cent of people in some countries but in recent weeks there has been a return of this old world disease and an epidemic has been declared in Swansea.
What causes a measles epidemic?
The majority of measles epidemics are caused by ineffective vaccine programmes. It is thought that large numbers of unimmunised children can heighten the risk of an outbreak of this disease, which is highly contagious and can be spread through airborne droplets such as those stimulated by coughing and sneezing. To prevent an outbreak from happening it is estimated that 95 per cent of the population should be immunised.
How does the MMR vaccine protect against measles?
The MMR vaccination is the only vaccine currently licensed for use and readily available for protection against measles. Unlike many routine childhood vaccinations they contain a live, weakened form of the measles virus which, once administered, stimulates the immune system to provide protection against the disease.
How is the MMR administered and at what age should a child have this vaccination?
The MMR is a voluntary vaccination in the United Kingdom that is administered to children at the age of 12 months and then again at 3 to 4 years of age via an injection.
Should you live in an area with a high risk of measles infection, the MMR vaccination can be given at an earlier age, as young as 6 months or at a later age if your child was not vaccinated as an infant.
Why are two doses of the MMR vaccine given?
Two doses of the MMR are given because only 85 per cent of people will gain full immunisation from measles with a single dose injection. The second dose ensures 90 per cent of people who receive the vaccine will be fully protected against this disease.
It is not possible to determine if you have full immunisation from the first dose alone, however, it is important to note that there are no harmful effects of offering additional doses to children who are already immune to this disease as the body will naturally neutralise any additional vaccine.
Are there any side effects of the MMR vaccine?
During the late 1990s the MMR vaccine was widely linked to autism but this has since been disproven and worldwide, high quality medical research has confirmed that the MMR does not appear to cause autistic illness. Some children may experience symptoms such as pain and swelling at the site of the injection which usually goes by 24 hours. Other children get a mild measles like illness some ten days or so after the vaccination.
Does my child need additional measles vaccines?
Generally no, unless you have been in very close (kissing!) contact with a relative with confirmed measles. If this happens and your child is 6-12 months of age, then a dose of measles vaccine within 72 hours of contact can help prevent contracting and spreading measles. Your baby will then also receive the measles vaccines at the normal time. In the same situation with an older child, aged over 12 months, if he or she has had both doses at 12-13 months and again at 3.5-4 years, then there is no need for additional doses. If he or she has only received a single dose, then a second dose will be recommended.
Where can I go for further help and advice?
If you are worried about immunisations or whether your child might be showing symptoms of measles, then leading Paediatricians like Dr Andrew Raffles at The Portland Hospital are available to help. Call us on 020 7390 8020.