Measles remains a concern in Hackney as the potentially deadly disease spreads in other London boroughs.

Hackney continues to have the “lowest” vaccination rate in England for the highly contagious illness, experts warned during a health scrutiny commission on Monday (February 12).

Worryingly, cases have seen a “steady rise” in north-west London since April last year, although there have been none confirmed in Hackney, consultant in public health Carolyn Sharpe told the commission.

Warning that the borough had the lowest vaccination rates in the country, she said: “People don’t realise how serious measles is."

An ongoing outbreak in West Midlands is spreading through schools and is proving hard to stop, she warned.

Since October last year, England has had 465 cases, with 71% of those recorded in West Midlands and 60 cases in north-west London.

During the week ending February 4, inner London boroughs recorded 12 measles cases, including one in Haringey, two in Hammersmith and Fulham, two in Newham and four in Westminster, the UK Health Security Agency statutory notification of infectious diseases showed.

In City of London and Hackney, 81% of five-year-olds had their first dose of the MMR vaccine and 56% were fully immunised, figures from 2022/23 show.

In some cases, measles can lead to swelling in the brain and be fatal.

For people who are not vaccinated, around two to four in ten end up in hospital and the “burden of that will fall on children and young people”, she warned.

Typically, measles starts with cold-like symptoms and a rash only appears later. But it is already infectious during the cold phase, which is why it spreads “very easily”, Ms Sharpe said.

High-risk settings include nurseries, schools, homeless and asylum seeker accommodation.

Babies under the age of one, who are too young for immunisation, are at particular risk, as are pregnant women, for whom infection can cause complications and even miscarriage.

“We know our vaccination rates are heading in the wrong direction and there are a lot of countries abroad where measles is endemic, so the risk of travel associated infection and an outbreak stemming from that was always high,” Me Sharpe explained.

Several factors contribute to a lower immunisation cover in an area like Hackney, she explained.

“The evidence shows that inner city more urban, more deprived populations have lower coverages.

"The more urban have even lower, and the more culturally and ethnically diverse populations have even lower coverage.

"We know populations that are socially and economically deprived also find it hard to get vaccinations for multiple reasons,” she added.

“A lot of this is access. If you have a family or if you’re a single parent and you have a couple of jobs it’s just very difficult to get to an appointment, and sometimes it’s those convenience factors that are playing a role rather than a belief that vaccines don’t work or being hesitant.”

In Hackney, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller, Black Caribbean, Black African and Black British, and Orthodox Jewish population groups tend to have lower vaccination coverage generally, Sharpe continued.

The council is working on a targeted strategy to address access and convenience issues, including addressing language barriers and working with community and faith groups.

The council is now campaigning to target children who have had zero doses and those who are unregistered with a GP. Even one dose of the MMR vaccine can offer around 90% protection, the council’s director of partnerships Amy Wilkinson said.