Cambridgeshire’s low MMR vaccination rate blamed on anti-vaccine messages on social media

The declining immunisation rate nationally has been attributed to 'fake news' on social media.

The declining immunisation rate nationally has been attributed to 'fake news' on social media. - Credit: Archant

Hundreds of children in Cambridgeshire are not fully vaccinated against MMR, as the NHS warned vaccine deniers are gaining traction on social media.

Across England, take-up of the vaccine has fallen, with NHS chief executive Simon Stevens blaming ‘anti-vaxxers’ increasing prominence as “part of the fake news movement”.

The latest figures show that in Cambridgeshire, between April and September 2018, 88.4 per cent of children turning five had received the recommended two measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jabs.

This means around 457 children in the area are not fully vaccinated.

This is below the target, set by the World Health Organisation, for 95 per cent coverage.

However, MMR take-up in Cambridgeshire has increased since 2014, when 84.9 per cent of five-year-olds had the full course of vaccinations, according to Public Health England.

Across England, the proportion of five-year-olds fully immunised against MMR has dropped from 88.5 per cent in 2014 to 86.3 per cent last year.

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There were more than three times as many measles cases in 2018, as in the previous year.

Speaking at a health summit organised by the Nuffield Trust, Mr Stevens said: “Across the world, two to three million lives are saved each year by vaccination.

“But as part of the fake news movement, actually the vaccination deniers are getting some traction.

“We have seen a five-year steady decline in the vaccination uptake.”

Mr Stevens explained a parent at his own daughter’s primary school had used WhatsApp to express concern about children’s immune systems being ‘loaded up’ with vaccines.

“We are not being helped on this front by the fact that although nine in 10 parents support vaccination, half of them say they have seen fake messages about vaccination on social media,” he said.

“Frankly, it’s as irresponsible to tell parents that their children shouldn’t be vaccinated as it is to say don’t bother to look both ways when they cross the road.”

The MMR vaccination is made up of two jabs, the first when babies are one-year-old, and then before they start school aged three or four.

Cambridgeshire had a higher take-up of the first jab in 2018, with 94.9 per cent of five year olds having had it.

The NHS says up to one in 10 children are not fully immune after the first jab, whereas fewer than one in 100 are fully immunised after the second dose.

The Royal College of Nursing’s Helen Donovan said: “Challenging misinformation is vital to reverse the decline in vaccination uptake and ensure people recognise the protection it offers.”

She said the rise in measles was “exacerbated by myths propagated largely online”.