Around a million children and teenagers are to be targeted in a national catch-up vaccination campaign aimed at curbing a rise in measles cases in England.
GP surgeries, schools and community programmes will be used to vaccinate children and young people who have not had either one or two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine in a £20 million campaign.
The scheme has been launched after new figures from Public Health England (PHE) revealed that there were 587 confirmed measles cases in the first three months of this year in England, more than double the 168 in the same period of 2012. The highest regional total was in the North West at 179, followed by 175 in the North East.
Out of the total number of confirmed cases this year, nearly one in five - 20%, or 108 cases - were admitted to hospital, with 15 of these experiencing complications such as pneumonia, meningitis and gastroenteritis. The figures, if unchecked, put England on course for another record annual high in measles cases after 1,920 confirmed cases last year.
The rise comes in spite of the highest ever national MMR vaccination level being achieved in England with 94% of five-year-olds receiving one dose and 90% receiving two doses according to the latest PHE figures.
The leap in the number of confirmed cases can mostly be attributed to the proportion of unprotected 10 to 16-year-olds who missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early years of 2000 when fears about the discredited link between autism and the vaccine was widespread, according to public health experts.
Children are offered an MMR vaccine at 12 to 13 months, giving 95% protection and then a second dose at around three-and-a-half-years-old which boosts this protection to 99%. An estimated one third of a million 10 to 16-year-olds who are unvaccinated will be made a "first priority" in the new campaign.
This will be followed by a further estimated third of a million children in this age group who need at least one further MMR jab to give them full protection and another estimated one third of a million children above and below this age group who need at least one further MMR vaccination.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed that his three sons Antonio, Alberto and Miguel have all had the MMR jab, and he said he did not feel the need to "cross his fingers" as he decided to have them vaccinated.
Speaking on his Call Clegg phone-in show on LBC 97.3 radio, the Liberal Democrat leader said: "I really would urge parents, whatever your misgivings, do what people who know about this most say is right for your children - get that course of jabs done."