NHS Greater Manchester is succeeding in the fight against measles

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In the first three months of 2024, NHS Greater Manchester has delivered more than 26,000 doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to children and young people, as part of the NHS’ national MMR catch-up campaign.

In 2023, MMR vaccine uptake was at an all-time low (17,344 1st January – 31st March 2023), but thanks to Greater Manchester’s outstanding MMR vaccine drive, 40% more vaccines (8,680) have been administered in the first quarter of 2024 (26,024 1st January – 31st March 2024) compared to the same period last year.

This news comes as it has been revealed that the UK’s North West region as a whole is leading the rest of the country in the fight against measles – with more than a seven times increase in the number of people aged 5 to 25 getting vaccinated January to March 2024 than in 2023.

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The impressive increase in MMR vaccine uptake is as a result of collaborative working across the city region involving not only NHS Greater Manchester, but also local authorities, Primary Care Networks (PCNs) e.g pharmacies, school immunisation teams, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and GP practices – all playing an important role in driving up vaccine numbers.

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At the centre of it all was the two-phase NHS Greater Manchester MMR vaccine catch-up campaign in partnership with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), NHS England and local authorities.

The campaign urged parents and guardians to book their children in for missed MMR jabs to protect children and young people from becoming seriously unwell, in response to rising cases of measles and a fall in vaccination rates – targeting Greater Manchester, West Midlands and London in particular, with these areas being more at risk due to the number of people who were not up to date with their MMR vaccinations.

Phase one saw over a million parents and carers of 6-11 years-olds in England, including Greater Manchester, that were not up to date with their MMR vaccinations sent emails, letters and texts inviting them to book a vaccine appointment for their children. While phase two, involved more than 900,000 adults aged 19 to 25 and 200,000 16-19 year-olds invited to book an appointment for their missed MMR vaccine.

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Both phases involved a significant amount of work at a locality, Primary Care Network (PCN) and practice level, to ensure the MMR vaccination drive was tailored to the needs of their local communities – including the use of digital tools to help increase patient access, and contacting eligible patients via text message, emails, letters and phone calls to invite them for vaccination.

All the individual localities, aided by their councils, also ran a number of different initiatives to bring the MMR vaccination numbers up. For example, in Oldham they engaged with community groups to understand local residents’ understanding and perception of the MMR vaccine to help identify barriers. While in Salford, PCNs provided dedicated weekend and evening clinics offering MMR vaccines.

In addition to the campaign, since the beginning of April, fifteen Greater Manchester pharmacies have been taking part in a North West pilot offering the MMR vaccine. Making it possible for anyone aged 5 or over who has missed their MMR vaccine, to walk into those taking part to get their vaccination from one of the highly trained pharmacists – no appointment needed.

Dr Helen Wall, Clinical Director for Population Health at NHS Greater Manchester said: “We are very proud of the incredible MMR vaccine results in Greater Manchester, which are down to not only the hard work of primary care clinicians and councils for making it all possible, but also the parents and carer who have taken the time to make sure their children have the protection they need against this dangerous disease.

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“But while we are really pleased with such a positive outcome, we don’t want people to forget that measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and can cause serious harm to adults and children of all ages. Even though measles cases have stabilised, we have seen how it can quickly increase when there is complacency around getting the MMR vaccination, so it is still extremely important that everyone continues to ensure they and their family are fully vaccinated to prevent a future rise in cases.

“Just two doses of the MMR vaccine are needed for maximum life-long protection, with the first dose given around a person’s first birthday, and the second dose given at around three years and four months. However, anyone can catch up at any age on any missed doses and it’s never too late to protect yourself.

“It is especially important for those who are planning a pregnancy or who are postnatal to make sure they are fully vaccinated. As it is a live vaccine, MMR cannot be given during pregnancy and people should avoid getting pregnant for one month after having it, however following delivery the vaccine can be given at any time.

“For those aged 5 or over, there is no need to wait for a GP appointment, they can just walk into the nearest participating local pharmacy – but we do ask for people to be patient if there is a wait due to the pharmacist treating other patients.”

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Measles is one of the world’s most infectious diseases with estimates showing that one infected adult or child can pass the disease onto around 15 other unvaccinated people. It spreads very easily among those who are unvaccinated, especially in nurseries, schools and universities.

Catching measles can lead to life changing issues for adults and children, such as blindness, deafness and swelling of the brain (encephalitis) – and those in certain groups, including babies, pregnant women, and people with weakened immunity, are at increased risk of these complications.

There is currently no medical treatment for measles, however, two doses of the MMR vaccine can give someone effective lifelong protection against becoming seriously unwell with the disease.

In the United Kingdom, over 20 million cases of measles have been prevented since vaccination against the disease began during the 1980s, according to data from UKHSA. Data also shows that over 4,500 lives- 81 lives per year-across the United Kingdom have been saved as a result.

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Symptoms of measles appear 7-10 days after contact with the virus and include:

· cold-like symptoms such as runny or blocked nose, sneezing and cough

· red, sore, watery eyes

· high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40OC / 104OF

· a non-itchy, red-brown rash usually appears 3-5 days later (sometimes starts around the ears before spreading to rest of the body), spots may be raised and join to form blotchy patches – which may be harder to see on darker skin tones

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· small white spots may appear inside cheeks and the back of lips (for a few days)

More information about the symptoms can be found here: Measles - NHS (www.nhs.uk)

If you or a family member develops any symptoms of measles contact your GP by phone. Please do not go to your GP, walk-in centre or any other healthcare setting without calling ahead, as measles is very infectious.

The full list of participating NHS Greater Manchester pharmacies can be found here: MMR available in pharmacies | Greater Manchester Integrated Care Partnership (gmintegratedcare.org.uk)