The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stripped the United Kingdom of its measles free status following an increase in disease cases and falling vaccination rates.

The UK recorded 913 cases of measles between 1 January and 31 October 2018, compared to 259 cases in 2017. This is despite measles being an entirely preventable disease. Measles is a highly infectious and life-threatening disease which often leaves patients susceptible to other infections. The MMR vaccine can effectively prevent the spread of measles and is usually administered to children in two separate doses.

However, vaccination rates have been declining in the UK. Currently only 87.2% of children receive the second vaccine dose, a decrease from 88.6% in 2014-2015. The WHO recommends that at least 95% of the population should be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity ensures those that cannot have the vaccine, including newborn babies, are protected from the disease.

Several factors are suspected contributors to the fall in vaccination rates, including inaccurate information about vaccine safety spread on the internet by so called ‘anti-vaxxers.’ Social media companies and search engines have been criticised for allowing false information to spread easily. Many parents now are also too young to have experienced a preventable disease outbreak and do not appreciate the severity of diseases such as measles.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK government is ‘determined to step up our efforts to tackle its spread.’