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Boris Johnson orders urgent action to boost vaccination rates amid soaring number of measles cases

Megan White

The Government is set to step up efforts to boost the number of children receiving vaccinations after the number of measles cases rocketed.

Boris Johnson is calling for health leaders to renew their efforts to ensure 95 per cent of the population have had both doses of the MMR vaccine.

Currently only 87.2 per cent of children have the second dose of the vaccination, down from a high of 88.6 per cent in 2014-15, which is thought to be partly behind the spread of measles.

The Prime Minister will set out the plans to improve vaccination rates - including for the measles, mumps and rubella jab (MMR) - on a visit to a hospital in the South West on Monday.

More than half a million children in the UK have not been vaccinated against measles (PA)

There were 231 confirmed cases of measles in the UK during the first quarter of 2019, and Britain has lost its "measles-free" status with the World Health Organisation three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said: "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 UK this year.

"One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.

"This is a global challenge and there's a number of reasons why people don't get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised.

"From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain."

The Government is hoping to boost the levels of children being vaccinated (AFP/Getty Images)

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "It's easy to forget how devastating measles can be, precisely because vaccines are so effective at preventing it in the first place.

"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."

NHS England is set to write to GPs urging them to promote "catch-up" vaccination programmes, while the Government will also seek to update the advice on the NHS's website to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines.

Social media companies will also be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.

The Department for Health and Social Care will also deliver a strategy to address the issue in the autumn, in which the NHS is expected to be asked to use technology to identify who may have missed a vaccination and make booking appointments easier.

Matt Hancock said he is hoping the plans will

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said: "Losing our measles-free status is a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated.

"Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine.

"Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man - only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak.

"Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.

"Making it as easy as possible for parents to access vaccines so that they can offer their children the best possible start in life is a priority for us, DHSC and for NHS England.

"Through our Value of Vaccines campaign we'll be using all opportunities to remind people to get two doses of MMR vaccine - whether that's new parents, school children or younger adults.

"This will be crucial to the UK achieving elimination status again in future."

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England's medical director, said: "People not getting the vaccines they need is leading to a killer disease like measles unnecessarily becoming a health risk for our country again, with the number of cases almost quadrupling in just one year.

"The NHS and the Government are right to take action to boost vaccination rates - vaccine rejection and falling uptake is a preventable public health risk and it is vital that people get themselves and their children vaccinated."