HEALTH chiefs claim that the number of 10-16 year olds who missed out on the controversial MMR vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s is behind the epidemic which has hit the borough.
Figures released by Public Health England (PHE) reveal that there have already been 55 confirmed cases in the borough - scores more than any other part of Greater Manchester.
Experts at the PHE say that it is imeprative to now stem the flow of the virus or the borough could risk the same problems faced by Swansea in South Wales which has seen one fatality and hundreds of cases.
Dr Paul Turner, Wigan Council’s consultant in public health, said: “To understand what’s happening in Wigan Borough it’s helpful to look at how a measles outbreak develops.
“There are generally three stages. The first is where there are a few sporadic cases. In Wigan Borough, we experienced this last year among nursery age children.
“From the beginning of this year, we started to see an increase in cases, especially among high school age children. This is effectively the second stage of an outbreak. The third stage sees a rapid rise in cases. This is what is happening in south Wales at the moment and what we are working really hard to avoid in Wigan Borough.
“Most areas of England are at the first stage but we’ve entered the second already. The reason the outbreak has developed quicker here is because of our proximity to previous outbreaks in neighbouring areas, particularly the outbreak in Merseyside in 2012. We are now taking significant steps to prevent the infection spreading further and to ensure we don’t enter the third stage of the outbreak.
“I’m optimistic we can achieve this because local uptake of the MMR vaccine is comparable to the rest of England and because of the fast action we are taking. We are organising MMR immunisation sessions in high schools as this is now the age group with most cases of the virus. Priority will be given to schools where there is the highest number of children who have had no dose of the MMR vaccine.
“We are also encouraging parents of all children who may not have had the MMR vaccine to get them vaccinated. We recommend they contact their doctor to arrange an immunisation as soon as possible.
“I’d like to reassure the public we are doing all we can to control and contain this outbreak and there is no reason for alarm. However, it should be understood measles is a very serious infection and immunisation is the best protection against it.”
The figures in Wigan have forced health booses at PHE to implement a vaccination catch up programme in the borough.
The initiative will produce tailored local plans to identify and give MMR to un-vaccinated and partially vaccinated 10-16 year olds through GPs and/or school programmes.
Professor Martyn Regan, PHE Greater Manchester Centre Director, said: “Measles is a potentially fatal but entirely preventable disease so it is very disappointing that cases have recently increased in the Greater Manchester area. The catch-up programme set out today recommends an approach to specifically target those young people most at risk. Those who have not been vaccinated should urgently seek at least one dose of MMR vaccination which will give them 95 per cent protection against measles. A second dose is then needed to provide almost complete protection.”