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Health

Britain Just Officially Lost Its ‘Measles-Free’ Status

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Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goal 3 calls for good health and well-being for everyone — and a vital part of that goal is ensuring vaccines for all. Vaccines save lives, and no one should have to suffer from diseases that are entirely preventable. Join the movement by taking action here in support of the Global Goals. 

Three years ago, Britain proudly announced that it had eliminated measles for the first time in its history. But a toxic concoction of complacency and so-called fake news has now brought the highly infectious disease back from the brink.

There were 231 confirmed measles cases in the UK in the first quarter of 2019, according to the BBC. Most were caught while abroad, although the disease then spread throughout communities in the UK where vaccination rates are low. 

Measles can be prevented with the Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR) vaccine, offered in two doses. The first is typically given when a child hits their first birthday, while the second is administered just before they start school, though you can access the vaccine at any age in the UK. 

However, only 87% of children are getting their second dose. This figure might seem high, but to officially eliminate the disease, vaccination coverage must be at least 95% — this establishes “herd immunity” — a target last reached in Britain across data from 2014-16. 

Which begs the question: why aren’t parents vaccinating their children?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson blames misleading information about the effectiveness and safety of vaccinations online. On Monday, he urged social media firms to do better at tackling anti-vaccine messaging and announced that the National Health Service (NHS) website would do more to deconstruct harmful myths about safety.

"We need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised,” Johnson said.

"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,” he added.

He’s partly right. Suspicion around vaccinations can be traced back to Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who was struck off the medical register for publishing a fraudulent paper purporting to link vaccinations to autism. Subsequent studies have found no link between them — but the conspiracies still circulate on internet forums.

However, complacency also has a role. The BBC reports that perception is crucial — if people believe the threat is low, vaccination rates can suffer.

In 2018, there were 991 confirmed measles cases in England and Wales, while the year before that there were just 284 cases. Globally, there have been 364,808 cases reported so far this year.

According to the NHS, symptoms are similar to those of a cold, involving coughing, sneezing, aches, pains, tiredness, a high temperature, and spots in your mouth. It often clears up within a week, but can lead to serious complications like infections of the lungs (pneumonia) and brain (encephalitis). The disease can be deadly.

As news spread of Britain losing its measles-free status, the internet reacted with an important message: please vaccinate your children, everyone.