The United Kingdom has lost the measles elimination status it achieved in 2017, health officials announced.
The announcement followed what Public Health England called “a marked increase” in confirmed measles cases in England and Wales, from 284 in 2017 to 991 last year.
According to WHO, a country is considered to have eliminated measles if no single strain of the virus has circulated for 12 months or more, there is high vaccine coverage and good measles identification systems are in place.
The U.K.’s measles-free status was terminated after the same strain — B3 Dublin — was detected for more than 12 months in 2017 and 2018, officials said.
Currently, several large measles outbreaks are occurring in countries across Europe, driven by gaps in vaccine coverage. Nearly 83,000 cases of measles were reported in Europe in 2018, according to WHO. In the U.K., coverage with the first dose of measles-containing vaccine has reached the targeted 95% but has stalled at 87.4% for the second dose.
There were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the U.K. in the first quarter of 2019, many of which were acquired abroad and then spread within under-vaccinated communities, according to health officials.
“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 U.K. this year,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) outlined several actions that are needed to bolster efforts to regain elimination status, including:
- Ensuring that England’s National Health Service urges general practitioners to promote catch-up vaccination in unvaccinated adolescents and young adults;
- Strengthening the role of local immunization coordinators to target hard-to-reach families;
- Addressing parents’ concerns about vaccines by tailoring advice on NHS.uk to address vaccine misinformation;
- Calling a summit of social media companies about their role in promoting vaccine information; and
- Requiring that DHSC works with Publish Health England and NHS England to deliver a comprehensive strategy to address measles.
“It’s easy to forget how devastating measles can be precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. “With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations — especially for our children — and this time we will eliminate measles for good.”
The U.K.’s struggles to prevent measles mirrors developments in other countries where vaccine coverage is waning — including the United States. The CDC has warned that the U.S. may lose the measles-free status it achieved in 2000 if outbreaks in densely populated urban areas like New York City and Rockland County, New York, continue. As of August 12, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has reported 653 confirmed cases since September 2018. – by Joe Gramigna
DSHC. Prime Minister orders urgent action to improve vaccination uptake. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/prime-minister-orders-urgent-action-to-improve-vaccination-uptake. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Gov.uk. Measles in England. https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2019/08/19/measles-in-england/. Accessed August 19, 2019.
NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Recent outbreak in Brooklyn and Queens. https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/health/health-topics/measles.page. Accessed August 19, 2019.
Disclosures: Hancock and Johnson report no relevant financial disclosures.