Three years after the measles virus was eliminated from the UK, the country has lost its “measles-free” status with the World Health Organization.

The UK initially achieved WHO measles elimination status in 2017, based on data from 2014-2016.

However, in 2018, there was a marked increase in the number of confirmed measles cases, with 991 confirmed cases in England and Wales, compared with 284 cases in 2017.  

Furthermore, the same strain of measles virus (called B3 Dublin) was detected for more than 12 months across 2017 and 2018. Based on this, WHO determined that the UK could no longer be consider as ‘eliminated’ and that transmission of measles had been re-established.

Measles can be prevented through two doses of the MMR vaccine – something that is offered free by the NHS to all young children in the UK.

While coverage of the first dose in the UK has reached the WHO target of 95% for children aged five, coverage of the second dose is at 87.4%. 

blog published by Public Health England on August 19, 2019, reviewed the reasons for the WHO’s change in the UK’s status, and ongoing efforts to protect the British population from the measles virus.

The NHS Long Term Plan includes a range of measures to maintain and increase uptake of both MMR doses. These include a fundamental review of the GP contract for vaccination and immunisation, and improved local co-ordination to support improving immunisation coverage in each area which can help target those groups who have low uptake.