Boris Johnson: UK must do more to fight anti-vaxxers

Jamie Roberton

Former Health and Science Producer

The UK must do more to fight back against anti-vaccine propaganda and stop the spread of treatable infectious diseases, the prime minister has said.

More than 230 cases of measles were recorded in England in the first three months of 2019 and with an estimated half a million children still not vaccinated against the disease.

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

Boris Johnson said “decisive action” was urgently needed to improve immunisation rates and counter vaccine scepticism.

Mr Johnson promised to increase efforts to reach under-vaccinated communities and demand that social media companies attend a summit to discuss the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories on their platforms.

His pledge came as Public Health England revealed new figures showing that 1 in 7 five-year-olds are not fully protected against measles, with that figure rising to 1 in 4 in London.

“After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we’ve now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year. One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread,” the prime minister, who will visit a hospital on Monday to announce his plans, said.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will unveil a wider strategy around vaccination uptake later this year, Downing Street added.

Mr Hancock has previously refused to rule out mandatory vaccinations or stopping unvaccinated children from attending school - a policy adopted by Italy earlier this year in a bid to improve its low uptake.

Outbreaks have been reported in Manchester, Kent and areas of London already this year, prompting Public Health England to publicly appeal to parents to make sure babies are taken for their first MMR jab - usually around their first birthday - and the second dose before starting school.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, will unveil a wider strategy around vaccination uptake later this year, Downing Street added. Credit: PA

Health leaders have called for renewed their efforts to ensure 95% of the population have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.

Currently only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the jab - down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15.

Anti-vaccine propaganda on social media platforms has been cited as a factor behind the worrying trend and despite promises of action from the companies responsible, searching for vaccine on Facebook still generates suggestions of groups such as “Vaccine Damage UK” and “Vaccine Injury Stories”.

Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: “Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man – only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak. Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.”

ITV News has approached Facebook for comment.