Children may need to be vaccinated against measles before starting school to prevent the spread of the disease in the UK, experts have warned.

At least 40% of children starting school would need to be immunised, a team of Italian researchers has said.

The team from the Bruno Kessler Foundation and Bocconi University claim current vaccination policies are not enough to keep the disease at elimination status and control rising numbers of cases.

The solution, they said, is for far more people to be vaccinated or a schools policy to be introduced.

Such measures are necessary to keep the percentage of the population susceptible to catching measles under 7.5% by 2050 – the level at which measles is regarded as eliminated, the study said.

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Dr Andrew Wakefield’s study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was discredited

Their report, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found around 3.7% of the UK population across all ages was still susceptible to measles in 2018.

But this figure is expected to rise by more than 50% by 2050 if current vaccination policies remain the same.

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Researchers said most countries “would strongly benefit from the introduction of compulsory vaccination at school entry in addition to current routine immunisation programmes”.

Co-author Dr Stefano Merler added: “In particular, we found that this strategy would allow the UK, Ireland and the US to reach stable herd immunity levels in the next decades, which means that a sufficiently high proportion of individuals are immune to the disease to avoid future outbreaks.”

But Dr David Elliman, consultant in community child health at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said such a policy could backfire in the UK because “only about 1% to 2% of UK parents refuse all immunisations”.

“Introducing compulsory vaccination in this country might reduce the very high level of trust that people have in the
NHS and prove counterproductive. It could even result in lower levels of vaccination,” he said.

In the UK, people began to stop using vaccines after a now-discredited 1998 study by British doctor Andrew Wakefield, which linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

MMR immunisations in the UK fell to about 80% nationally in the late 1990s and early 2000s and took many years to recover.

In 2006, measles transmission became re-established in the UK, and in 2007, cases of measles exceeded 1,000 for the first time in 10 years.