This article was first published in the Hackney Gazette. To read the latest edition, see here

There is a measles public health incident and Hackney is at the epicentre of low immunisation levels. The consequences for Hackney children are severe and could lead to serious illness or death. 

Just over half of children aged five in Hackney have received both doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This is the lowest vaccination rate in the country.  

The UK Health Security Agency, which is the body responsible for protecting our country from the impact of infectious diseases, has now declared a national incident after a surge in cases. There is a deep concern amongst public health professionals that many people have forgotten how serious measles can be and why it is vital we remain up to date with our vaccines.  

Common symptoms include a high fever, sore and red watery eyes, coughing and sneezing. A blotchy brown or red rash normally appears after a few days, usually on the face and behind the ears before spreading to the rest of the body. This can be harder to see on brown and black skin. Babies and young children, pregnant women and those with a weakened immune system are at the most risk.  

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases in the world – spread through an infected person coughing or sneezing. One infected person can infect nine out of ten of their close unvaccinated contacts. Whilst most people who contract it will have a mild case, in some cases it can cause blindness, pneumonia, meningitis, or seizures. And in rare cases it can lead to death. For every five children that contract measles, one of them will require a hospital visit.  

But the good news is that the MMR vaccine is highly effective – after receiving both doses 99 per cent of people are protected against measles and rubella. It is very safe, has been in use for over 60 years, and offers lifelong protection. Normally the first dose is given to children at 12 months old and the second dose at around three years and four months old. But if you or your children haven’t received both jabs, it’s never too late to catch-up. You can get the MMR vaccine for free on the NHS whatever your age. Get in touch with your GP to book an appointment as soon as you can. Vaccination is the best way to protect each other in Hackney.