Why is the UK seeing a rise in measles cases?

The UK has lost its measles-free status three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

Cases of the deadly infection have been on the rise, with too few people being vaccinated.

Measles can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine – this is offered free by the NHS to all young children in the UK.

One is offered to all one-year-olds, and the second dose is administered before children start school.

Measles is one of the world’s most contagious diseases and can be easily spread by coughing or sneezing. Although many sufferers will completely recover, it can lead to life-threatening complications.


Why is it on the rise?

Currently only 87.4% of children have had the second dose of the vaccine. Public Health England have warned that not having the first dose of MMR leaves children “significantly more at risk compared to pupils who are fully vaccinated.”

Most new measles cases have been in people who are not vaccinated. These are most common in older teenagers and those in their early 20s who didn’t get an MMR vaccination when they were younger.

Some parents refuse vaccinations for their children, despite there being overwhelming evidence in favour of the vaccine and extensive public health campaign.

There are currently several large outbreaks across Europe in countries where MMR vaccination rates have previously been low.


Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has now stated he wants 95% of children to be vaccinated, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

Johnson has asked health leaders to write to GPs to get them to promote catch-up programmes for children and young people who haven’t had both doses of the MMR.

“From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infections, treatable disease in modern-day Britain.”


Dr Mary Ramsey, head of immunisation at PHE, said:

“It’s a real concern that so many young children – as man as a quarter of a reception class in some areas- could be starting school without the full protection that the NHS childhood immunisation programme offers for free.

“We know that parents want the best protection for their children so many may be unaware that their child is not up-to-date.”


It isn’t just the UK that have seen a sharp rise in measles cases. They nearly tripled globally during the first seven months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018, the World Health Organisation has confirmed.

There have so far been over 360,000 measles cases reported around the world.


Text References

BBC News. (2019). Boris Johnson orders action to stop measles spread. Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49393279. Last Accessed: 20 August 2019.

BBC News. (2019). Why is the UK seeing a rise in measles cases? Accessible: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-49394170. Last Accessed: 20 August 2019.

Burgess, S – Sky News. (2019). Measles: 1 in 7 five-year-olds ‘not protected’, PHE warns. Accessible: https://news.sky.com/story/measles-1-in-7-five-year-olds-not-protected-phe-warns-11789033. Last Accessed: 20 August 2019.