A DEADLY measles outbreak could be just around the corner if the number of children receiving vaccines continues to fall, experts have warned.

Uptake of three of the country’s most important vaccines – Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) 1 and 2 and the 4-in-1 jabs for children – have declined over the last six years, with levels of immunisation for some children now reaching their lowest level in a decade.

Health protection specialists have warned Scots not to “become complacent” about immunisation, following the World Health Organisation’s finding this week that vaccine scepticism is now one of the top 10 health threats worldwide.

Yesterday the UK Government announced it would actively be tackling online sites used to promote anti-vaccination messages to crack down on disinformation.

Professor Beate Kampmann, director of the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “One person with measles will infect at least two others, if they are not protected. That’s a big danger as it spirals out of control, as we have recently seen in many European countries. There is no room for complacency.”

In the first three months of this year, Health Protection Scotland received reports of three cases of measles, compared with just two cases for the whole of 2018.

Scotland's incidences are nothing compared with England and Wales where 259 lab-confirmed cases were detected in 2017, rising to more than 900 last year.

It is this rapid spread which health professionals are keen to avoid in Scotland, and they have urged those who are unvaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

According to official NHS statistics, the number of children in Scotland receiving their first MMR jab by the age of two, those receiving both jabs by the age of five, as well as those getting the combined vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and polio has fallen gradually over the past six years. For the last quarter of 2018, the number of toddlers who had received MMR1 had had fallen to 93.6% – the lowest since 2010.

Scientists say it is vital that 95% of the population are vaccinated against measles both times, to ensure the rest of the population is protected by "herd immunity". This means even if a small number of people are not vaccinated, they will be protected as the virus will not be able to spread, as it encounters people who are vaccinated against it.

Professor Kampmann said: “If you do not have 95% of the population vaccinated and cases come round – either people who have come to Scotland or Scots have been abroad and bring it back – then the community as a whole is not protected. Scotland’s levels are very good, but it is important to have that 95% uptake, particularly for measles. Otherwise people are still at risk, and measles particularly is very serious.

“The first risk of measles is to babies who are too young to be vaccinated. The second is to people who are somewhat immunocompromised, for example receiving chemotherapy for cancer, people with HIV, and others who have vulnerable immune systems.

“They are all put at risk by those who are not vaccinated. You are not only doing yourself a favour by getting vaccinated, but you are also acting in the best interests of your community.”

According to a report this week by scientific research charity the Wellcome Trust, only half of people in parts of Europe have confidence that vaccines work, compared with around 80% worldwide.

Misinformation on social media and online has been blamed for a rise in the so-called anti-vax movement.

While most active in Australia and America, the movement has also spread to the UK with Facebook sites and web pages set up to promote anti-vaccination messages.

Experts say they have seen reports showing syringes stuffed with aluminium foil and children who have allegedly become paralysed after vaccinations on official-looking websites, which promote other anti-vaccination messages.

The birth of the modern anti-vaccination movement came in 1998, following the publication of a report by Dr Andrew Wakefield linking the new MMR jab to autism.

The study, published in The Lancet journal, was later widely discredited and Wakefield himself described as “abusing his position of trust” by the General Medical Council. The uptake for the MMR jab fell to as low as 60% in some parts of England and Wales, and in Scotland dropped to around 86%.

In 2006, a 13-year-old boy became the first in Britain to die from measles in 14 years.

One parent spoke to The Herald on Sunday on the condition of anonymity, afraid they would be targeted for admitting they did not believe vaccines were safe.

The 35-year-old woman from Fife said her first child had been vaccinated but became unwell after receiving the MMR jab, and so she decided against jabs for her second child. She also didn’t give her first child any further vaccinations.

“I know this is not a popular opinion, but when you’re parent and faced with the possibility that you could be putting your child at risk .... it’s just not worth it for me. How can I give my child, who is unable to understand or choose for themselves, something that could potentially kill them or make them ill?

“They will be able to choose when they’re older, even a teenager. They can still get vaccinated then, and I would fully support them if they wanted to do that. I understand the issue of herd immunity, but luckily in Scotland we have a high level of vaccinations and it isn’t a concern right now.

“I know other people who are really strongly-minded about anti-vaccination. I’m not like that. I don’t think vaccines are a conspiracy or some sort of pharmaceutical propaganda, like some other people I know, but I will say I’m sceptical.”

Dr Gillian Prentice, a public health consultant at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said that those who are not vaccinated can still do so when they get older.

She said: “Its never too late. If an adult discovers they’ve not been vaccinated because their parents didn’t want them for example, they can have a dose of MMR and then a second another month later. There are only two doses which will protect people for life.

“We shouldn’t be complacent in Scotland. We can be a bit smug – our vaccination levels are so much better than other parts of the country – but we should never be complacent.

“Measles is one of the most infectious diseases, much more than the cold. If someone comes into your office with a cold, one or two folk will get it. If someone with measles goes in, then practically everyone will get it. It is very infectious and not just a few spots. The hospitalisation rate is incredibly high. People get really unwell, there are horrendous complications and there have been deaths.

“Unfortunately some people just put the blinkers on and just don’t seem to see that. Because of the internet, media and anti-vaccinators information on the internet, there is an anti-vax hesitancy culture out there. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist in Scotland, we are seeing a bit of it, but there are concerted efforts by all NHS staff to provide as much information as possible and to support people."