With a second measles case in Scotland confirmed since October 2023, people are being urged to seek vaccination to prevent an outbreak. Measles is the most contagious virus known to man. It is estimated that in the absence of control measures, such as vaccinations, any one person infected with measles would transmit the virus to between 12 and 18 people. Because of this it is essential to have a high vaccine coverage in the population.

Currently children are offered a first dose at 12 months and a second dose at 40 months. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a minimum of 95% of people be vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine, to reduce the possibility of an outbreak. Ten years ago in Scotland the vaccination coverage of six-year-olds having received two doses stood at 94.3%. In recent years, however, there has been a worrying downward trend with only 91% of six-year-olds receiving two doses, as of September last year. It is frequently said that vaccines are victims of their own success. Their ability to almost eradicate a disease means people no longer witness the misery that the disease once brought. Complacency creeps in, vaccine uptake goes down, opening the door for the disease to return. WHO has named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, has suffered a double blow. Not only has its effectiveness led to complacency, fear surrounding the vaccine was generated by the flawed and now overwhelmingly-disproven Wakefield report of 1998, which incorrectly proposed a link between the vaccine and autism. The incidence of autism in children who have and have not received the vaccine is no different.

The call to vaccination not only applies to children, the long-standing hesitancy regarding the MMR vaccine means many adults are unvaccinated. If you are an unvaccinated adult there are many reasons for considering accepting the vaccine. Adults are not exempt from the complications associated with measles infection and getting vaccinated protects you from the disease. Children under one and those with underlying health conditions cannot have the vaccine but are more likely to become seriously ill if infected. Being vaccinated not only reduces the risk that you could infect a vulnerable child, it decreases the likelihood of an outbreak and so you help to protect the most vulnerable children throughout your community.

Measles infection during pregnancy carries a risk to the unborn child but it is not recommended for pregnant women to receive the vaccine. So, if you are considering having a child it is best to seek vaccination at least one month before trying to conceive. If you are unsure if you received your vaccinations as a child you can ask your GP to check your records.

If you are feeling hesitant about vaccinating your child, speak to a healthcare professional. Like other respiratory viruses, measles transmission benefits from the cold weather in winter and early spring. If you are unvaccinated, now is a great time to act, get vaccinated and help reduce the risk of a measles outbreak in Scotland.

Dr Claire Crossan is a virologist with Glasgow Caledonian University