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United Kingdom

Social media firms must share responsibility for rising spread of measles in UK, Boris Johnson says

The Prime Minister has said social media firms must share the responsibility for the rising spread of measles in the UK as he attacked antivax misinformation

Boris Johnson will on Monday set out plans to improve vaccination rates on a visit to a hospital in the South West, following a rise in cases of measles.

In the first quarter of 2019 there were 231 confirmed cases of measles, just three years after the World Health Organisation declared the UK measles-free. 

Earlier this year Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, said “fake news” by anti-vaxers on social media had fuelled a tripling in measles cases and added that the promotion of misguided messages on Instagram and YouTube was one of the factors behind the dip in vaccinations.

Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson, who will call a summit of social media companies to discuss how they can play their part in promoting accurate information about vaccination, said: "After a period of progress where we were once able to declare Britain measles free, we've now seen hundreds of cases of measles in the UK this year.

"One case of this horrible disease is too many, and I am determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.

"This is a global challenge and there's a number of reasons why people don't get themselves or their children the vaccines they need, but we need decisive action across our health service and society to make sure communities are properly immunised."

The Prime Minister added: "From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain.”

Mr Johnson called for health leaders to renew their efforts to ensure 95 per cent of the population have had both doses of the MMR vaccine, as currently only 87.2 per cent of children have the second dose of the jab.

This is down from a high of 88.6 per cent in 2014-15, the lower uptake of which is thought to be partly behind the spread of measles, Downing Street said.

NHS England will write to all GPs urging them to promote "catch-up" vaccination programmes, and will seek to strengthen the role of local immunisation co-ordinators in a bid to improve uptake.

It will also seek to update the advice on the NHS's website to address misleading information about the dangers of vaccines.

As part of the Department for Health’s strategy it plans to work with the Department for Education to explore more ways in which students can be informed about their health, including the value of vaccinations, which they hope will enable them to critically assess misinformation spread online about certain vaccines.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: "With this strategy, the whole health system will come together to renew focus on vaccinations, especially for our children, and this time we will eliminate measles for good."

Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at Public Health England, said the UK losing its measles-free status was “a stark reminder of how important it is that every eligible person gets vaccinated”. 

"Elimination can only be sustained by maintaining and improving coverage of the MMR vaccine,” he said.

"Measles is one of the most infectious diseases known to man - only one person travelling back to an area with lower vaccination rates can lead to an outbreak.

"Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk.”

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