More than half a million children in the United Kingdom were not vaccinated against measles over an eight-year period, new figures show.
Inaccurate and misleading anti-vaccination messages on social media are thought to be one reason why vaccination rates are plummeting.
A Unicef report showed that only 88 per cent of five-year-olds in the United Kingdom have had the required two doses of the MMR vaccine, well below the 95 per cent take-up needed to eliminate measles, mumps and rubella.
"And if you want to believe your kid doesn't need that many shots, there's plenty of places to find people who agree with you", said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, former head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
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The number of cases of measles in England has nearly quadrupled in the past year, leading the head of the health service to issue a warning about the growing number of parents refusing to vaccinate their children. The US has the highest number of unvaccinated children - with 2,593,000 over the eight years. Of the top 20 countries with the largest number of unvaccinated children in 2017, 9 have not introduced the second dose.
Other countries including Argentina, Italy, Japan, Canada, Germany and Australia also made the top 10.
"Measles is far too contagious", said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
"Measles is a frightful disease and because it's highly contagious, we need everyone to be vaccinating".
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Worldwide, measles cases rose 300 percent through the first three months of 2019 compared with the same period a year ago, according to the United Nations. "It should be viewed as an embarrassment that so many Americans have turned away from vaccines that we are having a record year for measles".
In the United Kingdom last year, there were 966 cases of measles, substantially up from 259 the previous year.
A UNICEF report said a primary reason for the disease's resurgence has been the "anti-vax" movement - led by parents tired of the vaccine who refuse to inoculate their children. "They can do that through a blood test or even receiving a second dose of the MMR to be sure". Nigeria had the highest number of children under the age of one who missed the first dose at 4 million. Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Dr Ramsay said: "The UK achieved World Health Organization measles elimination status in 2017, so the overall risk of measles to the UK population is low".
The largest outbreak has been in New York City where officials said at least 390 cases have been recorded since October, mostly among children in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, making it the city's worst outbreak since 1991. "You take a different scenario in sub-Saharan Africa where they are seeing measles all the time - they know people who have died".
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How risky is measles? In that first decade of reporting, an average of about 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported annually. Although only 5 states are now experiencing outbreaks , 22 states have reported confirmed cases of measles in 2019.
A combination of factors has led to the spike in measles cases according to UNICEF, including complacency among parents and "fear or skepticism about vaccines".