England’s NHS is calling its recent campaign to boost vaccination rates a success amidst a surge in measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) cases.

Latest data released by the health service shows that there were 23% more vaccinations in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the same time last year.

A total of 360,964 jabs were delivered between January and March this year, compared to 293,847 in 2023. The biggest jump was seen in those aged five to 25 years old, with vaccinations up four-fold in that group between 2024 and 2023.

In January, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) declared a national incident following a surge in measles outbreaks across Britain. The highly contagious measles virus can cause serious illness and, in some cases, even death, in children and adults. It is also dangerous if caught during pregnancy, potentially resulting in stillbirth, miscarriage, and low birth weight.

In the same month, the NHS started contacting millions of patients and carers in England to book their children in for a catch-up vaccine with a GP. The campaign also targeted those in the 11 to 25 year-age group in areas with low vaccine uptake rates such as London and the West Midlands.

At the time, the NHS said its figures indicated that more than 3.4 million children under 16 years of age were unprotected against the three infectious diseases. There have been 934 confirmed cases of measles in England since the beginning of October last year, according to data from the UKSHA. The West Midlands accounted for around half of the cases seen since January.

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UKSHA head of immunisation Dr Mary Ramsay said: “The big increase in people, especially children, getting their MMR vaccine following our recent marketing campaign on missed immunisations is fantastic to see.”

The NHS uses MSD’s M-M-RVaxPro and GSK’s Priorix for MMR vaccines. The shots were approved for use in the UK in 1997 and 2006, respectively. They are recommended for all babies and young children, with adults able to receive one if unvaccinated. 

Two doses of the vaccines are required, resulting in lifelong protection with high efficacy against the three viruses which are easily spread between unvaccinated people.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said 95% vaccine coverage would eliminate measles in a population completely.

The US has also seen a surge in measles cases, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting 97 cases in 2024 so far. Over half of the patients diagnosed with the virus were hospitalised. The CDC issued a health alert urging travellers, especially children, to get vaccinated. A statement from the American Medical Association echoed the call for vaccinations.  The US also uses MSD’s M-M-R II and GSK’s Priorix.