School gates can be a breeding ground for harmful myths about the MMR vaccine, NHS England’s chief executive has warned.
This can cause the spread of misinformation and infect parents’ judgment, Simon Stevens said.
It is worrying that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced the UK is no longer measles-free, he writes in a column in Saturday’s Daily Mail.
“Last week it was confirmed that the vaccination rate for two-year-olds getting their first MMR dose has dropped for the fifth consecutive year, hitting 90.3 per cent, leaving one in ten children at risk.
“Crucially, this rate is below the 95 per cent threshold where a critical mass of people is protected, creating a ‘herd immunity’ that keeps the whole population safe.”
Mr Stevens says the statistic matters because the lives of children who can not be vaccinated – for example, if they are being treated for cancer – depend on other children having had the vaccination to keep infection at bay.
He says getting vaccinated against killer diseases is not only safe but essential to keeping individuals, families and the community healthy.
“Dropped rates of vaccination mean many more people are vulnerable and exposed to risk, and all it takes for a whole society to be in danger is for one person to catch a disease and start a contagion,” he writes.
Mr Stevens adds that the recent WHO report warned that British people have “effectively imported illness following holidays abroad”.
Earlier this week, the outgoing Chief Medical Officer said, as she recalled looking after two children who died from measles, that England may have to introduce mandatory vaccines.
Professor Dame Sally Davies said she hoped other measures could be tried first to stem falling immunisation rates, but that it was vital to stop the spread of deadly diseases.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We need to up our vaccination rates.
“I hope we can do it by other means, but if we can’t, we might well end up with mandatory.”
David Elliman, consultant community paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, said he was in favour of vaccination clinics being set up in places such as music festivals.
And he said mandatory vaccination should not be introduced to “prop up failures in the system”.
As well as the ethical issues of forcing people to vaccinate, “there really is no convincing evidence from anywhere that it works”, he said, adding: “We could make things worse.”