Fears of measles outbreak due to missed MMR jabs in Birmingham

Children may have a year-long wait for routine jabs such as MMR due to missed appointments during lockdown, health experts have warned.

Dr Justin Varney, director of public health, and Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward. Picture: Gurdip Thandi LDR
Dr Justin Varney, director of public health, and Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward. Picture: Gurdip Thandi LDR

A representative for Public Health England (PHE) was speaking at Birmingham City Council’s health and wellbeing meeting about vaccines such as for Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which are administered to school-age children.

The announcement prompted concerns from the council's director of public health, Dr Justin Varney, who admitted “the last thing we need is a measles outbreak”.

But the missed jabs are understood to include the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, which is given to children up to the age of five to prevent the spread of the three infectious diseases.

Andrew Dalton, screening and immunisation lead for PHE, told the meeting on Tuesday: “School-age immunisations didn’t do an amount of work from March to June.

“The providers of school age immunisations will catch up in the next academic year. It’s not going to be catching up over night but by June next year.

“There are some where delaying by one year isn’t terrible and a good example is the HPV vaccine.”

Dr Varney said she was very concerned about the coverage of MMR.

"The last thing we need in middle of the next wave is another measles outbreak," she said.

“There will be a series of immunisations that were planned and due to lockdown didn’t happen.

“We are already were not in a good place in vaccine take-up in the 0 to five-year-old age group.

“I’m concerned it is going to take a year to catch up. It feels it doesn’t have the pace it should have.”

Councillor Paulette Hamilton, board chair and cabinet member for health and social care, recommended PHE return to the board’s next meeting with a plan for how to catch up.

She said: “This can’t go on. It’s vital we get that 0 to five-year-olds up to some sort of equality with other parts of the country.

“As the chair I am asking you come back with a plan. What are we doing? I can’t see what we are doing to catch up.”

Councillor Kate Booth, cabinet member for children’s wellbeing, said: “We have got to do better than that and I am also concerned about parents who don’t get vaccines for children.

“Unless we put a real focus on catching up, we might see a crisis in several years time.

Councillor Matt Bennett, shadow cabinet member for health and social care, said he also shared the same concerns "very strongly".

“We were concerned the last time we saw the figures because our uptake of MMR is lower than national figures and in some places it is very low indeed," he said.

A PHE spokesman, speaking after the meeting, said: “GP practices in Birmingham have continued to offer childhood immunisations during the pandemic.

“There is therefore no ‘backlog’ in terms of children not being offered immunisations.

“We do know however that attendance at these appointments fell in some months during the pandemic although we will not have robust figures until next year because of the way that the national data is collected.

“We have done our own analysis and this suggests that in April and May 2020, the number of immunisation doses given was around fifth down compared to the same period last year.

“These children will continue to be re-invited for immunisations.

“In addition in Birmingham we have commissioned a new service to call parents of children who persistently fail to attend childhood immunisations to offer them immunisation appointments.”

The meeting also heard about a new Covid Community Champions scheme where volunteers are asked to spread accurate information about the pandemic.

The council aims to recruit 1,500 volunteers who will be provided with support through online channels and asked to spread information to their family and contacts in the community.

The information will be available in multiple formats and different languages.

To register as a volunteer, visit birmingham.gov.uk/COVID-19__Health_Champions

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