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'Fake news' on social media blamed for a drop in MMR vaccinations in Newham

PUBLISHED: 11:00 19 March 2019

Fewer youngsters getting measles jabs because of 'fake news' scare stories on social media. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

Fewer youngsters getting measles jabs because of 'fake news' scare stories on social media. Picture: David Cheskin/PA Wire

PA Wire/PA Images

More than one in three children in Newham don't have the full MMR vaccination, as the NHS warns vaccine deniers are gaining traction on social media.

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

Latest figures show just 63.7per cent of children turning five had received the recommended two measles, mumps and rubella or MMR jabs between April and September last year, lower than the national average and far below the 95pc World Health Organisation target.

This means 1,149 children in the area are not fully vaccinated.

“Two to three million lives are saved across the world each year by vaccination,” Mr Stevens told a Nuffield Trust health summit.

“But the vaccination deniers are getting some traction as part of the fake news movement. We have seen a steady five-year decline in the vaccination uptake.”

MMR take up in Newham has dropped since 2014, when 83.9pc of five year olds had the full vaccinations.

The proportion nationally has dropped by two per cent, with three times as many measles cases in 2018 as in the previous year.

Mr Stevens explained a parent at his own daughter’s primary school had used WhatsApp to express fears about children’s immune systems being “loaded up” with vaccines.

“Nine in 10 parents support vaccination, but half 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.

Newham had a higher take-up of the first jab in 2018, with 84pc of five year olds having 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.”

The rise in measles was “exacerbated by myths propagated largely online”, she added.

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