'Fake news' anti-vax scare blamed as fewer Blackpool children get MMR jab

Fewer children in Blackpool are having the full MMR vaccination, as the NHS warns vaccine deniers are gaining traction on social media.

Across England, take-up of the vaccine has fallen, with NHS chief executive Simon Stevens blaming anti-vaxxers increasing prominence as “part of the fake news movement”.

'Fake news' has been blamed for the fall in children getting the full MMR jab in Blackpool. Photo: Getty Images

'Fake news' has been blamed for the fall in children getting the full MMR jab in Blackpool. Photo: Getty Images

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The latest figures show that in Blackpool, between April and September 2018, 88 per cent of children turning five had received the recommended two measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jabs.

This means around 105 children in the area are not fully vaccinated. However, it remains above the national average.

MMR take-up in Blackpool has dropped since 2014, when 88.9 per cent of five-year-olds had the full course of vaccinations, according to Public Health England. The target, set by the World Health Organisation, is for 95 per cent coverage.

Across England, the proportion of five-year-olds fully immunised against MMR has dropped from 88.5 per cent in 2014 to 86.3 per cent in 2018.

Medics are concerned about the rise of misinformation online as more people are exposed so so-called anti-vax messages warning about the supposed dangers of vaccinations. Photo: Getty Images

Medics are concerned about the rise of misinformation online as more people are exposed so so-called anti-vax messages warning about the supposed dangers of vaccinations. Photo: Getty Images

There were more than three times as many measles cases in 2018, as in the previous year.

Speaking at a health summit organised by the Nuffield Trust, Mr Stevens said: “Across the world, two to three million lives are saved each year by vaccination.

"But as part of the fake news movement, actually the vaccination deniers are getting some traction.

"We have seen a five-year steady decline in the vaccination uptake."

Mr Stevens explained a parent at his own daughter's primary school had used WhatsApp to express concern about children's immune systems being "loaded up" with vaccines.

"We are not being helped on this front by the fact that although nine in 10 parents support vaccination, half of them say they have seen fake messages about vaccination on social media," he said.

"Frankly it's as irresponsible to tell parents that their children shouldn't be vaccinated as it is to say don't bother to look both ways when they cross the road.”

The MMR vaccination is made up of two jabs, the first when babies are one year old, and then before they start school aged three or four.

Blackpool had a higher take-up of the first jab in 2018, with 95.2 per cent of five-year-olds having had it.

The Royal College of Nursing's Helen Donovan said: "Challenging misinformation is vital to reverse the decline in vaccination uptake and ensure people recognise the protection it offers.”

She said the rise in measles was “exacerbated by myths propagated largely online".