Published: Thu, April 25, 2013
At least a million children and teenagers are being targeted in a £20million “catch-up” vaccination programme in a bid to avert an epidemic of the highly-infectious disease.
Cases are already at an 18-year high, with officials fearing 2013 will see the highest annual rate since 1994 if the outbreak is unchecked.
England had 587 confirmed measles cases in the first three months of this year – more than double the 220 recorded in the same period of 2012.
Last year brought a record high, with almost two thousand babies, children and adults confirmed as having the potentially deadly disease in England and Wales.
It was the biggest outbreak since cases were first officially recorded around 20 years ago.
There is a massive outbreak in South-west Wales, particularly in Swansea.
At least 886 people there have contracted the disease and it has killed a 25-year-old man.
Experts lay the blame for the soaring number of cases firmly on large numbers of 10 to 16-year-olds who are unprotected after missing out on the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
At the time parents were worried about a now-discredited link between autism and the jab.
Measles had been eliminated in the UK but, after vaccine coverage fell to less than 80 per cent in 2005, the disease became re-established in 2007.
Professor David Salisbury, director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said of the current outbreak: “I don’t think at this stage it is an emergency but the threat is clear and we need to prevent it becoming an emergency.