Parents are urged to book their child’s missed MMR vaccines, as records show 3.4 million children are unprotected amid a surge

The NHS has launched a Catch Up Campaign for missed measles, mumps and rubella vaccines

child getting injection, plaster stuck over arm after
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Parents are being reminded to catch up with their child's missed measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines, as it's revealed 3.4m children are still unprotected.

NHS England has issued a new Catch Up Campaign drive to remind millions of parents and carers to book their children in for their vaccine to protect their child from measles, as cases continue to rise. Would you be able to recognise the measles symptoms? They are among the ones to watch when wondering should I send my child to school with a cold?

New figures released by UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show that since last October there have been 216 lab-confirmed cases in the West Midlands, with 103 cases likely. About 80 per cent of the cases were in Birmingham and 10 per cent were in Coventry, according to the agency, which cited low vaccination rates. Most of the cases were among children aged under 10.

Further outbreaks are predicted and it's now been declared a national incident due to the surge in cases and low vaccine uptake. NHS figures show more than 3.4 million children under the age of 16 years are unprotected and at risk of catching these serious and completely preventable diseases.

The NHS campaign will see all parents of children aged from six to 11 years contacted, encouraging them to make an appointment with their child’s GP practice for their missed MMR vaccine.

Thanks to NHS efforts last winter, the number of MMR vaccinations increased by 10% compared to the previous year, with two million texts, emails and letters sent to parents between September 2022 and February 2023.

Steve Russell NHS England
Steve Russell

Steve joined NHS England in February 2022 to lead the NHS COVID-19 vaccination and flu programmes. Steve was previously Chief Executive of Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust. He has a decade’s worth of board-level experience in NHS organisations including NHS Improvement’s Regional Director for London and Chief Operating Officer at South London Healthcare and Deputy Chief Executive at Barking Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust.

The latest NHS campaign will target areas with low uptake of the vaccine, with the health service contacting just over one million people aged 11 to 25 years old in London and the West Midlands to invite them to catch up on their missed MMR vaccinations.

Steve Russell, NHS director of vaccinations and screening, said: “The NHS is acting quickly to tackle the spread of measles by contacting one million people aged between 11 and 25 across London and the Midlands to urge them to get their vaccine.

“People who are unvaccinated can get catch-up jabs at MMR pop-ups in schools and other convenient places while GPs, teachers and trusted community leaders are encouraging groups that are less likely to get their jab to come forward."

Mother checking child with measles throat

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mr Russell added, "All this builds on the national MMR catch-up campaign the NHS rolled out at the beginning of winter, with text, email and letter reminders sent out to parents and guardians of children up to five who have yet to get full protection.  

“Measles is a serious illness, with one in five children who get the disease having to be admitted to hospital for treatment, so if you or your child have not had your MMR jab, it is vital you come forward.”

Measles is not just a childhood disease and can be serious at any age. If caught during pregnancy it can be very serious, potentially causing stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight. NHS bosses are urging young adults to catch up on any missed doses before thinking about starting a family.

Two doses of the safe and effective MMR vaccine are needed for maximum life-long protection, with the first dose given around the child’s first birthday, and the second dose given at around three years and four months old.

However, anyone can catch up at any age on any missed doses and it’s never too late to protect yourself. The vaccine doses are typically given via a single injection into the muscle of the thigh or upper arm and are usually delivered with their other one-year and preschool vaccinations.

The NHS campaign is being supported by Samantha Murray-James from Cheshire, mum of 16 months old Lucca. Samantha, said: “I’d heard stories from my grandmother about measles and how she nursed her children in a darkened room to stop them going blind with it in the 1950s, but didn’t think it was still a problem now. When I heard that measles was making a comeback in the news I was worried about my son, Lucca who was just a few months old. As soon as my GP invited me around his first birthday I booked him an appointment to get his first MMR vaccine. The nurse reassured us both and it has put my mind at rest to know he is now protected.”

MMR complications

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Swelling of the brain (encephalitis)
  • Analysis shows one infected child in a classroom can infect up to nine other unvaccinated children, making it one of the most infectious diseases worldwide; and more infectious than COVID-19. Meanwhile, one in five children with measles will need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, UKHSA Consultant Medical Epidemiologist: “The continuing downward trend in the uptake of routine childhood vaccinations is a serious concern. The diseases that these vaccines protect against, such as measles, can be life-changing and even deadly. No parent wants this for their child especially when these diseases are easily preventable.

 “We now have a very real risk of measles outbreaks across the country. Please don’t put this off, check now that your children are fully up to date with both their MMR jabs and all their routine vaccines, and do take up the offer as soon as possible if you are contacted by your GP practice or the NHS for your child to catch up.”

Parents and carers can find out more about the different vaccines their child should have and when by visiting and searching for ‘NHS vaccinations and when to have them’.

In other family news, here's why popcorn isn't for toddlers - brave mum shares warning over 'harmless-looking' snack that can be a go-to and British children are up to 7cm shorter than children of the same age in other countries, a new study shows.

Selina Maycock
Senior Family Writer

Selina is a Senior Family Writer for GoodtoKnow and has more than 16 years years of experience. She specialises in royal family news, including the latest activities of Prince George, Charlotte, Louis, Archie and Lilibet. She also covers the latest government, health and charity advice for families. Selina graduated from the University of Sheffield in 2006 with a degree in Journalism, and gained her NCTJ and NCE qualifications. During her career, she’s also written for Woman, Woman's Own, Woman&Home, and Woman's Weekly as well as Heat magazine, Bang Showbiz - and the Scunthorpe Telegraph. When she's not covering family news, you can find her exploring new countryside walking routes, catching up with friends over good food, or making memories (including award-winning scarecrows!)