DAUK’s Dr Ellen Welch pleas for parents to protect their children as MMR vaccine uptake hits 10-year low

A doctor and mother has made a personal plea to parents urging them to make sure their children get their measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines as uptake falls to a 10-year low.

Dr Ellen Welch, a GP and editorial lead at grassroots lobbying group Doctors’ Association UK, said anti-vax conspiracy theories aimed at the Covid-19 jab are likely to have played a role in numbers falling since the pandemic began.

Figures covering July to September last year, published on Monday, show that just 88.6 per cent of children have had their first MMR dose by the age of two while just 85.5 per cent have had both doses aged five. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated to keep measles away.

The NHS has launched a new campaign in response as officials stress the importance of children having keeping up to date with their routine vaccines. All children are invited for their first MMR vaccine on the NHS aged one, with the second dose given when they are three years and four months.

Dr Welch told i: “It’s a huge concern that MMR vaccination rates are down. The impacts of the pandemic are starting to now show themselves and the anti-vax conspiracies around the Covid vaccine are very likely to have played a part in this figure. I will be taking my 10-month-old to be vaccinated next month, and appreciate the anxieties parents can have around vaccination.

“However, vaccination provides protection against diseases that can be fatal or life altering. At 7 months my son spent a fraught weekend admitted to hospital with bronchiolitis – caused by a virus there is no current vaccine for. If I could have prevented his suffering with a vaccine then I would have done so in an instance.”

Dr Welch said any parent with concerns should read information from “reliable websites”, such as the Vaccine Knowledge Project run by Oxford University scientists.

“Those who missed vaccinations can catch up – and it is so important to do so to give our communities protection from these preventable diseases,” she said.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, also spoke of his concern at the drop in MMR vaccine uptake.

He said: “The NHS childhood vaccination programme, which includes the MMR vaccination, is critical to protect children – and wider society – against serious and potentially fatal diseases. It’s very concerning to see this drop in MMR vaccination rates. The MMR vaccine offers safe and effective protection from serious, sometimes fatal, illnesses.

“It is one of the most effective health interventions we have and we would urge all parents to ensure their children have the MMR vaccination, and that their vaccinations are kept up-to-date.

“GPs and our teams have worked incredibly hard to ensure childhood vaccinations have continued to be available throughout the pandemic. If any parents did not come forward during the crisis, for whatever reason, we would encourage them to make an appointment for their child to have the MMR vaccination as soon as possible.”