THE Public Health Agency (PHA) is marking European Immunisation Week (22–27 April 2013) by urging parents to ensure their child gets the best start in life by receiving all their childhood immunisations, particularly emphasising the importance of MMR. Recent events in Wales have reminded us of both how infectious measles is and of how serious it can be.
Although Northern Ireland has uptake rates of over 98% for the primary vaccines by two years of age, which is an excellent achievement, there is no room for complacency. In 2011 there were 9 cases, and to date in 2012, there have been 7.
Dr Lorraine Doherty, Assistant Director of Public Health, at the PHA, said: “Many childhood diseases which were common in Northern Ireland prior to the introduction of vaccination have been dramatically reduced or have disappeared altogether, such as polio, diphtheria, tetanus and several types of meningitis.
”However, it is important that we are not complacent. Once a disease ‘disappears’, it is easy to forget how serious it can be and unless children continue to be vaccinated against these deadly infections, there is a risk that they could start to spread again. Recent evidence of this includes the current extensive measles outbreak in Wales and in addition last year whooping cough figures reached the highest in 20 years in Northern Ireland. There is also the risk of diseases returning from other parts of the world where they are still prevalent, and if children haven’t been vaccinated, they will be vulnerable.”
The outbreak of Measles in Wales has highlighted large pockets of teenagers and young adults who did not receive the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine when they were young children and are now at high risk. Dr Richard Smithson, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA said: “In Northern Ireland MMR uptake rates have always remained steady so we don’t have the same large groups at risk. Our most recent figures show just over 95% of children have received one dose of MMR vaccine by the age of two and by five years of age, nearly 97% of children have had one dose of MMR and around 90% have had the recommended two doses.
“However, because measles is so highly infectious it is essential that every child has two doses of MMR vaccine. The situation in Wales reminds us of just how important this is. I would say to parents of children of all ages, if your child hasn’t had both doses of MMR then contact your GP’s surgery to arrange this.
“Measles is a highly infectious disease which spreads very easily, particularly in schools and universities. It is never too late to get your child immunised with two doses of the MMR vaccine. We cannot stress enough that measles is serious and in some cases it can be fatal. Delaying immunisation puts children at risk. The second dose is normally due at 3 years 4 months of age; there is no need to bring this forward normally, but if you think your child might be at particular risk then discuss it with your GP.
“As we approach the time of year when many children are travelling on school trips and family holidays, we are again urging parents to protect their children against measles by ensuring they have been immunised with two doses of MMR before travelling. Measles continues to occur in many places, and the situation in Wales is an example of this.”
The PHA is also highlighting to parents the importance of children getting all their childhood immunisations on time. This will maximise their protection.
Dr Doherty added: “In Northern Ireland, thousands of cases of serious illness and many deaths are avoided each year thanks to a highly successful childhood immunisation programme, but there is still a small percentage of children who do not receive full protection. The PHA wishes to remind parents, carers and health professionals that complete immunisation of every child is vital to prevent infectious diseases and protect life. MMR vaccine is the safest and most effective way to protect children from measles.