New university students should check they have had their MMR jab amid ongoing measles outbreaks in Europe, health officials urged today.
Public Health England’s request comes as the number of cases of the contagious bug on the continent has reached an eight-year high.
The Government-body has also asked freshers to check they are up-to-date with their MenACWY vaccine, which protects against meningitis.
Students are thought to be at a much higher risk of meningitis because they mix closely with lots of new people.
Officials say some of those they mix with may unknowingly carry the meningococcal bacteria at the back of their noses and throats.
Public Health England’s request comes as the number of cases of the contagious bug measles on the continent has reached an eight-year high
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, said colleges and universities can be ‘hotspots’ for the spread of measles and meningitis.
She added: ‘First year students especially are at increased risk of meningococcal infection if they are unvaccinated.
‘Which makes sense when they spend large amounts of time with new people in confined environments such as university halls.
‘We therefore encourage students to check with their GP that they are up to date with their MMR and MenACWY vaccinations before term starts.
‘It’s never too late to protect themselves and their friends from these highly infectious and serious diseases.’
MMR vaccination rates plummeted in the late 1990s after a controversial scientific paper linked the jab linked to autism.
The majority of children heading to university this year were born in 1999 or 2000, when fears were highest.
Uptake of the two-dose vaccine, of which the first is given to babies within a month of their first birthday, was as low as 80 per cent in the early noughties.
The second dose is given to toddlers before they start school, usually at 3 years and 4 months.
The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is available on the NHS to anyone who did not receive two doses as a child.
Across Europe, there were more than 41,000 cases recorded during the first six months of 2018, including 37 deaths.
The World Health Organisation said France, Georgia, Greece, Italy, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine have had more than 1,000 cases each so far this year.
England has also experienced outbreaks of measles, with 828 laboratory confirmed cases between January 1 and August 13, according to PHE.
Holidaymakers were also yesterday urged by the official body to ensure they were vaccinated against measles amid the outbreaks.
Cases of the most aggressive form of meningitis, Men W, has also soared over the past decade in England, from 22 in 2009/10 to 225 in 2016/17.
Last year saw the first decline in numbers since 2009, with numbers dropping to 192, according to provisional statistics.
The MenACWY vaccine protects against four meningococcal strains that can cause meningitis and septicaemia.
The jab was added to the national immunisation programme in 2015 as cases of the most aggressive Men W bacteria have soared in recent years.
It is routinely offered to those in years nine and 10 at school, but anyone who has missed out can be vaccinated free of charge until their 25th birthday.
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 then-editor of The Lancet Dr Richard Horton described Wakefield’s research as ‘fundamentally flawed’, adding he was paid by attorneys seeking lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers.
The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s research paper in 2010.
Three months later, the General Medical Council banned Wakefield from practicing 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.