MMR vaccination rate up, but it needs to go higher
MEASLES vaccination uptake in Gwent has reached the target 95 per cent for a first dose - but despite the raised awareness caused by last Spring's outbreak in the Swansea area, there remains a shortfall in pre-school second doses and protection for teenagers.
IN the second quarter (April-June) of 2013, 95.9 per cent of Gwent children who had their second birthday during that period received their first dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.
The percentage is significant because it marked the second successive quarter that the magic 95 per cent rate has been achieved.
For first dose MMR, the 95 per cent target rate has proved elusive for most parts of Wales, indeed of the UK, since the late-1990s scare about a now-discredited link to autism.
The outbreak of measles in the Swansea area during the first half of this year - the worst in the UK for more than a decade - was a unwelcome reminder of the dangers that lurk for the unprotected when an illness like this takes hold.
More than 1,200 cases were recorded in the immediate and surrounding area, and in Gwent, there were 133 cases in the first six months of 2013.
The NHS Wales response involved dozens of weekend clinics, and a vaccination programme in schools and colleges targeting teenagers who had not received MMR as pre-school children.
More than 74,000 non-routine MMR vaccinations were given out across Wales as part of the campaign to limit the spread of the Swansea outbreak.
One of the results has been the achievement of the 95 per cent target for two-year-olds, in many parts of Wales, for the second quarter in succession.
But though rates for second dose MMR, usually given prior to a child starting school, have risen, they have not reached 95 per cent - and rates for both doses (MMR1 and MMR2) among teenagers, again despite improving, still have some way to go.
Ninety-five per cent is the level at which 'herd immunity' - where a high enough rate of people are protected to minimise the occurrence of disease - is reached, though the rate must be maintained, rather than being met only occasionally.
And for MMR vaccination, it needs to be the norm across both pre-school doses and among teenagers who may have missed out earlier.
In Gwent during April-June, the vaccination rate for second dose MMR (by five years old) was 92 per cent. This was up from 89 per cent during the same quarter in 2012.
MMR1 among 16-year-olds was also up year-on-year, from 87.8 per cent in April-June 2012 to 93.7 per cent this year. MMR2 for 16-year-olds was 77.5 per cent last year, compared to 86.3 per cent this year.
All good news, but not quite good enough as far as public health experts are concerned.
Having had to manage, along with Wales' health boards, the response to the Swansea outbreak, they expected the increase in quarterly uptake due to what was a sustained awareness campaign about the need to get unvaccinated youngsters protected from measles.
Maintaining and where necessary improving on those increases is now the priority, but without the keen edge of an ongoing outbreak, will parents remain alert to the necessity?
"Although the number of previously unvaccinated individuals who have received MMR immunisation during the outbreak is considerable, there are still pockets of children and teenagers, particularly at secondary school and college age who remain vulnerable to measles, mumps and rubella," states the latest Public Health Wales report on immunisation.
"Catch-up of those who have missed out on MMR vaccination remains key in both preventing and controlling outbreaks of measles."
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