More than half a million children in the UK have not had their measles vaccine in the past eight years, a shocking report from UNICEF warns.
An estimated 169 million children worldwide missed out on the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017 – which equates to 21.1 million children a year on average, the charity said.
Widening pockets of unvaccinated children have created a pathway to the measles outbreaks hitting several countries around the world today, they added.
“The ground for the global measles outbreaks we are witnessing today was laid years ago,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.
“The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children. If we are serious about averting the spread of this dangerous but preventable disease, we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.”
In the first three months of 2019, more than 110,000 measles cases were reported worldwide – up nearly 300% from the same period last year.
An estimated 110,000 people, most of them children, died from measles in 2017, a 22% increase from the year before.
Two doses of the measles vaccine are essential to protect children from the disease. However, due to lack of access, poor health systems, complacency, and in some cases fear or skepticism about vaccines, the global coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine was reported at 85% in 2017, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the last decade despite population growth.
In high income countries, while coverage with the first dose is 94%, coverage for the second dose drops to 91%, according to the latest data.
The United States tops the list of high-income countries with the most children not receiving the first dose of the vaccine between 2010 and 2017, at more than 2.5 million. It is followed by France and the United Kingdom, with over 600,000 and 500,000 unvaccinated infants, respectively, during the same period.
In low-income and middle-income countries, the situation is “critical”, UNICEF said. In 2017, for example, Nigeria had the highest number of children under one year of age who missed out on the first dose, at nearly 4 million. It was followed by India (2.9 million), Pakistan and Indonesia (1.2 million each), and Ethiopia (1.1 million).
Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, urged parents to get themselves and their children vaccinated with the MMR jab, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.
“Getting yourself and your children vaccinated against killer diseases is essential to staying healthy, and vaccine rejection is a serious and growing public health time bomb,” he said.
“With measles cases almost quadrupling in England in just one year, it is grossly irresponsible for anybody to spread scare stories about vaccines, and social media firms should have a zero tolerance approach towards this dangerous content.”
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The MMR jab is provided for free to all children on the NHS as part of their routine immunisation programme. The first time is at 12-13 months old, and the second time is before they start primary school at three or four years old.
If you’re unsure if you or your child have had both doses of the jab, check with your GP. Adults or older children who’ve missed the vaccinations can still have them.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.