A GP is urging parents to get their children vaccinated against measles after figures revealed the lowest coverage nationally for a decade.

Dr Christopher Browning, chair of West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), warned measles, an acute viral infection, can have serious consequences in children and that they should receive the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) jab.

Figures from the Department of Health and Social Care and UK Health Security Agency have revealed that 85.5% of children had received both doses of the vaccine by the age of five, a 10-year low.

This is well below the 95% target figure to stop a resurgence of measles.

The disease is highly contagious and can infect nine out of ten children if they are not jabbed and exposed.

As well as a distinctive rash, measles can sometimes lead to severe complications, such as pneumonia and brain inflammation which can be fatal.

Dr Browning, a GP in Long Melford, said: “Measles is a viral illness that affects children. It is highly contagious, more contagious than the Omicron variant of Covid.

“It is a nasty illness; children are unwell for two or three weeks, but in a small proportion of cases it can cause serious illness and even death.”

He believed the low rates were due to busy families prioritising other responsibilities ahead of the jab.

However, he thought historic myths surrounding the safety of the vaccine had been disproven by experts.

“There are several reasons, I think, for the poor coverage. One is that MMR had a bad press a while ago and people associated it with autism, but that has now been debunked and people no longer associate it with bad issues.”

Beyond a sore arm and a few days of fever, vaccines have no other side effects, but receiving them can help towards achieving herd immunity.

“There really are no well-founded disadvantages long term, only benefits. The only side effects are a sore arm and a fever for a few days,” Dr Browning said.

Stuart Keeble, director of Public Health for Suffolk, said the drop in numbers could be attributed to people mistakenly assuming routine vaccine appointments were not going ahead.

He said: “Fortunately, Suffolk has not experienced a large or sustained decline in MMR vaccine uptake, but we are still slightly below the national target of 95% children having had two vaccines by the age of five.

“I would really encourage everyone in Suffolk to get vaccinated as this is the best defence against measles, mumps, and rubella – all of which are highly contagious diseases that can lead to serious illness and complications including ear infections, pneumonia, and meningitis.

“Anyone who thinks they, or their child, may have missed vaccinations should speak to their GP as soon as possible about getting up to date to ensure they are protected. The vaccine is safe, and most side effects are mild and do not last for long, unlike the alternative of catching one of these diseases.”