Warning over Easter holiday risk of measles for children as jab uptake falls

Dr Lucy Jessop, director of the National Immunisation Office. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Eilish O'Regan

A fall in the uptake of the measles vaccine is putting some children whose families are going abroad for the Easter holidays at higher risk of infection.

Measles outbreaks have been reported in a number of countries including the US, South Africa, Nepal and Austria.

The World Health Organi- sation (WHO) said there was an increased risk of measles spreading in children as a result of lower uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine following the pandemic.

The HSE said the most recent information showed an uptake of just 88pc in the school year 2020 to 2021 for the second dose of the MMR vaccine in this country, which is given in junior infants class.

That compares with 91pc reported for the 2019 to 2020 school year.

The HSE said both of these uptake rates were below the 95pc recommended by the WHO to prevent measles transmission. The low rates signal clear gaps in protection.

Dr Suzanne Cotter, public health specialist at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), said measles was highly infectious and could be an acute and serious infection.

“It causes a rash illness, with cough, runny nose, conjunctivitis and high fever,” she said.

“Complications of measles include ear infections, pneumonia, febrile seizures and, less commonly, enceph- alitis – inflammation of the brain – and even death.

“The only protection against measles is vaccination. Two doses of MMR vaccine are needed, and if a child is not fully protected, MMR vaccines can be obtained from your GP or travel health clinic.”

The disruption to schooling during the worst of the pandemic, as well as children staying at home after catching Covid-19, is believed to have contributed significantly to the drop in vaccinations here.

The HSE also had to redeploy staff who would normally have come to schools to give the vaccine.

This persisted last year, and when questioned about schools in one area – north Dublin city and county, with places of deprivation – the HSE said some public health nursing teams were redeployed to respond to the Covid-19 crisis.

Given this pressure on resources, the centralised school vaccination programme, which was under way at Swords vaccination centre, had been designed to ensure a maximum offer and uptake of vaccines, including the MMR jab.

“We are conscious that some schools may have a low vaccine uptake in Swords vaccination centre, due to factors such as geographical location or Deis status,” a HSE spokesperson said.

“Our intention is to run local targeted clinics for any students who cannot attend the vaccination centre or, where possible, attend schools that have displayed low attendance rates.

“On completion of this round of vaccinations, and when the redeployment of key immunisation staff is no longer required, we will then be in a position to turn our attention to these targeted clinics.”

Dr Lucy Jessop, director of the National Immunisation Office, said the booster MMR dose was being offered by HSE school vaccination teams, and if a child had missed their MMR it was not too late to get protected.

One case of measles can cause an additional 12 to 15 cases. If 1,000 people get measles, one or two will die, 50 will get an ear infection and 40 pneumonia or bronchitis.

Meanwhile, the latest figures on a mysterious form of hepatitis in children shows 38 cases up to the end of this month, all since October 2021.

The HSE said 37 of the cases were hospitalised. There was one death and two had liver transplants early on in its emergence.