Millions of children around the world have not been vaccinated against measles amid a rise in online ‘antivaxx’ scare stories.
A surge in measles outbreaks around the world is being fuelled by plummeting vaccination rates, the charity Unicef has warned.
Around 527,000 children in the UK did not receive the potentially life-saving jab between 2010 and 2017, with ‘fake news’ spread on social media partly to blame.
The UK comes third in a global ranking showing the number of unvaccinated children in high-income countries.
The US topped the charts, with 2,593,000 youngsters not receiving their first measles dose over the eight-year-period.
Around 527,000 children in the UK did not receive the potentially life-saving jab between 2010 and 2017, with ‘fake news’ spread on social media partly to blame. The UK comes third in a global ranking showing the number of unvaccinated children in high-income countries
Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, said: ‘With measles cases almost quadrupling in England in just one year, it is grossly irresponsible for anybody to spread scare stories about vaccines.
‘And social media firms should have a zero tolerance approach towards this dangerous content.’
Mr Stevens described vaccine rejection as a ‘growing public health timebomb’, warning parents it is essential their children are vaccinated against measles.
An estimated 169million children around the world missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017 – an average of 21.1million a year.
The antivaxx movement has seen the US hit with more measles cases in the first three months of this year than in the whole of 2018.
Some 626 cases have been recorded in the US in the last four months alone – nearly eclipsing the 667 recorded in all of 2014.
Half a million children in the UK have not been vaccinated against measles amid a rise in online ‘antivaxx’ scare stories (stock image)
France came second in the Unicef rankings, with 608,000 unvaccinated children, followed by the UK.
Experts believe 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated to protect the wider population through ‘herd immunity’.
But in the UK uptake dropped to 87 per cent last year.
The number of measles cases in England more than trebled from 259 in 2017 to 966 last year.
WHAT IS MEASLES?
Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads easily from an infected person by coughing, sneezing or even just breathing.
Symptoms develop between six and 19 days after infection, and include a runny nose, cough, sore eyes, a fever and a rash.
The rash appears as red and blotchy marks on the hairline that travel down over several days, turning brown and eventually fading.
Some children complain of disliking bright lights or develop white spots with red backgrounds on their tongue.
In one in 15 cases, measles can cause life-threatening complications including pneumonia, convulsions and encephalitis.
Dr Ava Easton, chief executive of the Encephalitis Society told MailOnline: ‘Measles can be very serious.
‘[It] can cause encephalitis which is inflammation of the brain.
‘Encephalitis can result in death or disability.’
Treatment focuses on staying hydrated, resting and taking painkillers, if necessary.
Measles can be prevented by receiving two vaccinations, the first at 13 months old and the second at three years and four months to five years old.
Source: Great Ormond Street Hospital
Globally, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported in the first three months of 2019 – up almost 300 per cent on the same period the year before.
And an estimated 110,000 people, mostly children, died from measles in 2017, a 22 per cent rise on the previous year.
Unicef said the rates reflected ‘lack of access, poor health systems, complacency, and in some cases fear or scepticism about vaccines’.
The charity’s executive director Henrietta Fore said: ‘The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children.
‘If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.’
Two doses of MMR vaccine are required to ensure full protection.
Figures from October to December 2018 show nine out of 10 children received their first dose by age two, rising to 95 per cent at age five.
By age five, 87 per cent had had their second dose, the quarterly figures showed.
Mary Ramsay, Public Health England’s head of immunisations, said: ‘The UK achieved WHO measles elimination status in 2017, so the overall risk of measles to the UK population is low.
‘However due to ongoing measles outbreaks in Europe, we will continue to see cases, particularly in unimmunised individuals.’
Scepticism over the MMR jab originated in 1998 when London doctor Andrew Wakefield published a paper linked MMR to autism.
Dr Wakefield, now dating model Elle McPherson, was later discredited and struck off as a doctor, but the damage was done.
Uptake of the MMR vaccine dropped from more than 90 per cent to less than 80 within a few years – and in some areas as few as 65 per cent of children had the jab.
Measles cases rose sharply as a result.
IS ANDREW WAKEFIELD’S DISCREDITED AUTISM RESEARCH TO BLAME FOR LOW MEASLES VACCINATION RATES?
Andrew Wakefield’s discredited autism research has long been blamed for a drop in measles vaccination rates
In 1995, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield published a study in The Lancet showing children who had been vaccinated against MMR were more likely to have bowel disease and autism.
He speculated that being injected with a ‘dead’ form of the measles virus via vaccination causes disruption to intestinal tissue, leading to both of the disorders.
After a 1998 paper further confirmed this finding, Wakefield said: ‘The risk of this particular syndrome [what Wakefield termed ‘autistic enterocolitis’] developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.’
At the time, Wakefield had a patent for single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines, and was therefore accused of having a conflict of interest.
Nonetheless, MMR vaccination rates in the US and the UK plummeted, until, in 2004, the editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by a group pursuing lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.
The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.
Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practising medicine in Britain, stating his research had shown a ‘callous disregard’ for children’s health.
On January 6 2011, The British Medical Journal published a report showing that of the 12 children included in Wakefield’s 1995 study, at most two had autistic symptoms post vaccination, rather than the eight he claimed.
At least two of the children also had developmental delays before they were vaccinated, yet Wakefield’s paper claimed they were all ‘previously normal’.
Further findings revealed none of the children had autism, non-specific colitis or symptoms within days of receiving the MMR vaccine, yet the study claimed six of the participants suffered all three.