The aim is to vaccinate as many “unvaccinated and partially vaccinated” 10 to 16-year-olds as possible in the run-up to the next academic year.
There were a high number of confirmed measles cases in England in the first three months of this year, with 587 having been recorded by the end of March. Last year also saw a record annual high of almost 2,000 cases. The catch-up programme comes despite 94 per cent of five-year-olds receiving one dose of the MMR vaccination.
Public Health England (PHE), NHS England and the Department of Health are co-ordinating the programme to identify unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children from GP or school programmes.
It is thought a third of the one million 10 to 16-year-olds may be unvaccinated. Experts believe this to be because of children who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s when there was a widespread fear about the now discredited link between autism and the vaccine.
A statement from PHE said: “At this time measles had been eliminated in the UK, but coverage fell nationally to less than 80 per cent in 2005. After many years of low vaccination uptake, measles became re-established in 2007.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so we are very disappointed that measles cases have recently increased in England. Those who have not been vaccinated should urgently seek at least one dose of MMR vaccination which will give them 95 per cent protection against measles. A second dose is then needed to provide almost complete protection.”
A Facebook page and Twitter campaign has been launched and schools can find out more at www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england/series/MMR-catch-up-programme-2013