MMR jabs hit all-time high but targets missed

Queue for MMR booster jab at Morriston Hospital, Swansea in April 2013
Image caption At the height of the south Wales measles outbreak earlier this year, hundreds queued at hospitals to get MMR jabs

The number of younger children getting a double dose of the MMR jab in Wales has reached an all-time high but is still falling short of targets.

The latest figures from Public Health Wales (PHW) reveal 92.2% of children in Wales have received both measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations by the time they are five years old.

But that is still below the 95% target rate set by health officials.

The overall rate for under-16s who have had both jabs is even worse at 87%.

The county with the lowest figure is Carmarthenshire at 79.2%.

The issue was highlighted during the measles outbreak centred on Swansea and Neath Port Talbot earlier in the year, which led to more than 1,000 suspected cases of measles being reported by doctors.

As a result, a series of drop-in MMR clinics were held in doctors' surgeries and hospitals in the areas, with 60,000 people receiving a catch-up jab.

The latest figures show the health board for the area - Abertawe Bro Morgannwg - is among five of Wales' seven health boards to have hit the target for giving 95% of children their first jab by the age of two.

"Catch-up of those who have missed out on MMR vaccination remains key in both preventing and controlling outbreaks of measles," warned Public Health Wales (PHW) in its quarterly report on immunisation.

Dr Marion Lyons, director of health protection for Public Health Wales said: "We are pleased that vaccination rates in Wales are high, but we are still not where we need to be. Though the measles outbreak is over, we won't put a full stop to measles in Wales unless we get the 95% vaccination rate we need to prevent further outbreaks.

"The message is simple - measles is a highly contagious and dangerous disease, and if you haven't received two doses of the MMR vaccine you are at risk whatever your age. Ten to 18 year olds in particular are still at risk because of lower vaccination rates in that age group, and we urge young people and the parents of children to see their GP to get the MMR vaccine as a matter of urgency.

"The vaccine is safe and it works, and there is no reason why children not vaccinated in the late 1990s because of fears about the safety of the vaccine should not be immunised now."

Both the Welsh government and Public Health Wales want to see 95% of all school children in Wales receive both MMR jabs before reaching secondary school to ensure what is known as "herd immunity" in the population as a whole.

But detailed figures on infection rates in Wales also show that mumps has been on the increase throughout 2013.

In 2012, there were 393 cases of mumps reported by GPs and hospitals across Wales.

By the end of August this year there had already been 634 cases of mumps notified to PHW - an increase of 61%.

A viral disease that is easily spread, mumps leads to swollen glands, fever and headaches, and can lead to serious complications such as meningitis and deafness.

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