The MMR vaccine uptake rate has fallen for the fourth year in a row, and the overall percentage of people in the UK who are vaccinated has also decreased to 87.2%. This may not sound that low, but the World Health Organisation says a vaccination rate of 95-93% is required to protect the whole population from disease. This is called herd immunity.
When a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, the remaining people do not need to be, because there is such a small chance of a susceptible person coming into contact with someone infected. However, this leaves no room for healthy people to choose whether or not to be vaccinated. For herd immunity to work, everyone who can must be vaccinated in order to protect the few who can’t, such as elderly people, very young children, and those on immunosuppressant drugs. If enough people choose not to be vaccinated, not only their safety, but that of those without a choice, is put at risk.
The UK was declared free of measles for the first time ever in 2017, but there have been some small outbreaks recently, very likely connected with the decline in vaccines. Although this doesn’t sound too bad, measles is a very serious disease that could lead to long-term effects like blindness, encephalitis and pneumonia; so much so that health secretary Matt Hancock is looking at ‘all options’ to increase the vaccination rate – and compulsory vaccination is not being ruled out.