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BSI response to new research on vaccination strategies to prevent measles resurgence

Measles virus. 3D illustration showing structure of measles virus with surface glycoprotein spikes heamagglutinin-neuraminidase and fusion protein17 May 2019

A new paper published in BMC Medicine has analysed the effects that different vaccination strategies may have on measles vaccination uptake in seven countries, including the UK, from 2018–2050.  Using a computer model to simulate how the number of measles cases may evolve, the paper reports that changes to vaccination policies in the UK are needed to ensure that the percentage of people in the population susceptible to contracting measles stays below the elimination threshold. In response, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement.

Prof Arne Akbar, President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Measles is a highly contagious disease that can lead to serious consequences including death.  Since 1968, we have had an effective vaccine to protect people from contracting measles.  To achieve maximum effectiveness, two doses of this vaccine need to be given – the first at one year of age and the second at three years four months.

“As measles is so infectious, a high percentage of the population needs to be vaccinated to stop the disease spreading within our communities – the World Health Organization recommends 95%.  We know that, in the UK and in other developed nations, annual childhood vaccination rates have fallen below this target for a number of years.  In the UK, we have witnessed the impact of this lower level of immunity with a high number of measles cases reported in 2018.

“This new study has modelled how levels of immunity against measles in different countries may develop over the next 50 years given different vaccination level scenarios, examining whether these would be sufficient to stop measles outbreaks.  Their finding that, if immunisation policies remain as now, the UK (and other countries) would continue to see measles outbreaks is not surprising as we already know that current immunisation rates are below the WHO recommended levels.

“The good news is that there are many actions that our government, working with partners both in the healthcare space and in communities, can take to increase vaccination rates, preventing the spread of disease and ultimately saving lives.  This is an area that is focused on in the recently published NHS 10-year plan.  These include providing more accessible and co-ordinated services to patients, providing the public with better information on the benefits of vaccination and providing more training to healthcare workers to be able to discuss vaccinations with patients.  By improving services in all of these areas, we have the potential to significantly increase vaccination rates in the UK.  The paper authors put forward the prospect of mandatory vaccination but the British Society for Immunology would argue that there are many actions that governments can take first to improve vaccination rates before resorting to this extreme measure.”

The full paper that this statement is in response to can be found at: Trentini et al. 2019 BMC Medicine 17:86 DOI: 10.1186/s12916-019-1318-5