Measles cases rare in North East but 'real risk' of outbreak prompts MMR vaccine call

  • Helen Ford has been finding out about the uptake of the MMR vaccine in the North East

The North East NHS is warning of a 'real risk' of a measles outbreak in our region, amid a rise in cases elsewhere in the country.

Parents are being urged to ensure their children receive both doses of the two-part MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, as well as mumps and rubella.

Across the North East, take-up of the MMR vaccine is the highest in England but there is concern that fewer children are receiving the second of the two doses.

The NHS states that both are needed to ensure full and lasting protection.

At a GP practice in the centre of Durham, I met Katie Oven, who had brought her one-year-old daughter Millie for a series of routine jabs, including MMR.

She told me: "Millie was due her 13-month vaccinations and we didn't question the need really."

Ms Oven continued: "For us, we want Millie to be as protected as possible from measles and other childhood illnesses."

Children are eligible for their first routine MMR jab at the age of 13 months. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

In the North East, measles is rare.

There were three confirmed cases in 2023 while none was recorded between 2019 and 2022.

Durham GP Dr Graham Peat is keen to keep it that way and argues that vaccination is the best method of achieving that.

Dr Peat, from the Claypath and University Medical Group, said: "One of the things the NHS does well is health prevention and one of the best health prevention tools that we've got is vaccination."

MMR vaccine take-up among 5-year-olds: 2022-23

- 96% received first dose

- 91% received second dose

- 95% - target to avoid outbreaks

Source: North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board

In January 2024, the UK Heath Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident in response to a surge in measles cases since the autumn, largely in the West Midlands.

Concern over measles centres on the fact that it is highly infectious and brings the threat of life-changing complications.

According to the NHS, these can include blindness, deafness and swelling of the brain.

Despite the generally high take-up of the MMR jab in our region there are areas, including Hartlepool and Middlesbrough, where rates are lower, leading to fears that any infection could spread more rapidly.

Take-up of the MMR vaccine in the North East is the highest in England. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

What symptoms should you look out for?

Symptoms of measles include:

-High temperature

-Red and sore eyes

-Coughing and sneezing

-A blotchy red brown rash which usually appears after the initial symptoms

Source: NHS

Follow this link to find out more about measles and what the rash looks like.

While much of the vaccination campaign focuses on children, other age groups are also being encouraged to come forward.

In York, public health officials are urging students - who may have missed out on MMR jabs earlier in life - to take up the offer.

The city's Director of Public Health Peter Roderick told ITV Tyne Tees that work is also taking place with other groups of people who may not be vaccinated against measles.

He said: "New arrivals whether they be migrants or asylum seekers or refugees so we're doing a lot of work to try and engage all types of communities in our city and in North Yorkshire."

When are children eligible for MMR vaccines?

- Children are invited for two doses of the MMR vaccine

- The first dose is given around a child's first birthday (13 months)

- The second dose is given at three years and four months

- Anyone who has missed out on an MMR jab is advised to check with their GP practice

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...