Johnson hits out at anti-vaccination ‘mumbo jumbo’ on internet

Complacent parents and a misguided belief in “superstitious mumbo jumbo” spread online about the supposed risks of vaccines have contributed to the UK losing its measles-free status, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister has ordered urgent action to boost the number of children and young people receiving vaccinations following a rise in cases of measles.

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 (WHO) three years after the virus was eliminated in the country.

Mr Johnson set out the plans to improve vaccination rates – including for the measles, mumps and rubella jab (MMR) – on a visit to a hospital in Cornwall.

He has called for health chiefs to renew their efforts to ensure 95% of the population has had both doses of the MMR vaccine.

Currently only 87.2% of children have the second dose of the jab, down from a high of 88.6% in 2014-15, the lower uptake of which is thought to be partly behind the spread of measles, Downing Street said.

Speaking in Truro, Mr Johnson said: “I think there’s complacency on the part of parents about the need to get that second vaccine but also, I’m afraid, people have been listening to that superstitious mumbo jumbo on the internet, all that anti-vax stuff and thinking that the MMR vaccine is a bad idea.

“That’s wrong.

“Please get your kids vaccinated because it’s not just the right thing for them, but also of course it is the right thing for the whole population because it might not be your kid that gets it, it could be somebody else’s.”

Mr Johnson’s comments came as:

– Public Health England warned that one in seven five-year-olds may not be fully up to date with routine immunisations;

– Social media giants were urged to do more to tackle misinformation online;

– Labour said the loss of the UK’s measles-free status was a “shocking indictment”, blaming Tory cuts to public health budgets.

As part of the fresh effort, NHS England will write to all GPs, urging them to promote “catch-up” vaccination programmes, and will seek to strengthen the role of local immunisation co-ordinators in a bid to improve uptake.

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 be called to a summit to discuss how they can promote accurate information about vaccination.

Measles cases in Europe 2009-2018
(PA Graphics)

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.

Public Health England warned about the dangers of unprotected children starting school in September.

More than 30,000 five-year-olds – around one in 19 – may still need to receive their first dose of MMR, leaving them significantly more at risk compared with pupils who are fully vaccinated.

Around 90,000 (one in seven) may still need to receive their second dose of MMR, including almost 30,000 in London – meaning around a quarter of all primary school starters in the capital are not fully protected.

Around 100,000 (one in eight) five-year-olds in England may still need their four-in-one pre-school booster which protects against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio.

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said: “We often think that these diseases are confined to the past, but the World Health Organisation has recently confirmed that measles is no longer eliminated in England.

“Whilst tetanus and polio are still rare thanks to the success of the NHS childhood immunisation programme, over the past few years we’ve also seen cases of whooping cough and diphtheria in school-aged children.”

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “It’s a shocking indictment that the UK has now lost its measles-free status.

“Labour has long warned of falling vaccination rates – now at a six-year low, having fallen in consecutive years – and missing the World Health Organisation target, while the Tories continued to cut public health budgets, watch health visitor numbers fall and pile more pressure on overstretched family doctors.

“We need also serious action on falling vaccination rates, including an enforced duty of care for social media to prevent anti-vaccination propaganda.”

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.”

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