Britain’s Health Security Agency stated on Friday that the measles vaccination rates in certain parts of London have dropped to such low levels that the capital could experience tens of thousands of cases of the rash-causing disease unless there is a quick boost in immunization coverage.

According to the agency, in some groups of children in London, less than 70% have received their first dose of the standard measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. Two doses are required for protection. Measles is one of the most infectious diseases worldwide, and health experts estimate that around 95% of the population must be immunized to prevent new outbreaks.

The Health Security Agency further warned that although the risk of an outbreak across the U.K. remains low, the current levels of immunization in London suggest that a measles outbreak of between 40,000 and 160,000 cases could occur in the capital. As of June 30, Britain has reported 128 cases of measles this year, compared to 54 cases last year. More than 60% of the cases in 2023 have been in London.

Britain’s National Health Service announced the initiation of a targeted national campaign to enhance measles vaccination in communities with the lowest coverage rates.

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Mumps vaccine

A vial containing the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is showcased at the Neighborcare Health clinics located at Vashon Island High School in Vashon Island, Washington, on May 15, 2019.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

U.K. officials have identified individuals between the ages of 19 and 25 as being particularly susceptible to contracting measles, noting that many of them may have missed vaccinations due to unfounded claims made by British physician Andrew Wakefield in 1998, linking the MMR vaccine to autism. The research was later debunked, and Wakefield was banned by medical authorities for misconduct. However, his actions sparked an anti-vaccination movement that adversely affected immunization rates in the U.K. and beyond for many years.

Globally, measles immunization rates have significantly dropped in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization issued a warning last November that approximately 40 million children worldwide did not receive a measles vaccine dose in 2021. In Europe, the WHO noted an increase in cases in certain countries, including Russia, Austria, Serbia, and the U.K., this year.

Measles is an airborne disease that typically presents symptoms such as cough, red eyes, and a facial rash. Serious complications are more common in children under five and adults over 30 and include blindness, encephalitis, and pneumonia.

In 2021, the disease caused over 128,000 deaths, primarily among children under five, according to the WHO.

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