A total of 8,000 children are starting school next week in the West Country without having a crucial booster injection of the once-controversial MMR jab, health chiefs have revealed.
And so worried are NHS bosses about the shortfall that they are warning parents their child could be at risk from potentially life-changing diseases like measles and mumps from their classmates unless they get the second jab.
Cases of measles in particular have begun to rise again recently after a decade when the disease was virtually wiped out among the region’s children.
But after the 1998 controversy of former Bath doctor Andrew Wakefield’s claims of a link between the MMR jab and autism – which have since been proved false – rates of immunisation with the MMR jab dropped below safe levels in many areas.
Before 1998, some 92 per cent of children were receiving the jab, but in the years after it dropped to below 80 per cent. That meant that while in 1998 there were only 56 measles cases in the entire UK, ten years later that had jumped to 1,348 – including two deaths.
Since the medical authorities found against Dr Wakefield’s findings in 2010, and essentially disproved any link, inoculation rates have slowly begun to climb again, and of the 60,000 children under the age of two in the West last year, some 55,000 – or more than 90 per cent – have received their first MMR jab.
But NHS bosses in the region say when it comes to the pre-school jab at the age of four, some 8,000 parents don’t get their children protected, with a vaccination rate at 85 per cent, worryingly close to the levels which are considered unsafe for the wider school population.
“It’s easy to miss reminders for the booster injections but absolutely vital that children do receive them to ensure they are adequately protected,” warned the West’s director for public health, Professor Yvonne Doyle.
“It’s possible that parents may think that there is a defined time period during which their children should be vaccinated and that if that is missed, it is too late. But when it comes to vaccinations it really is a case of better late than never. Even if your child has missed a vaccination, or is older than the recommended age, it is not too late,” she added.
“Measles in particular spreads very easily.”