BBC corrects article claiming 5% measles vaccination rate

15 January 2024
What was claimed

An outbreak of measles in the West Midlands has been attributed to a low vaccination rate of about 5%.

Our verdict

Low vaccination rates may well explain this outbreak, but no measure of measles vaccine coverage is lower than 75% in local authorities in the West Midlands.

A low vaccination rate of about 5% has been attributed to the rise. [sic]

A BBC News article claimed that a 5% vaccination rate was an explanation for a rise in measles cases in the West Midlands. Citing the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) describing Birmingham, a report on BBC Radio 4’s Six O’Clock News [24:45] also said: “The agency said that in some of the city's neighbourhoods, the rate was as low as 5%."

The same claim was shared on X (formerly Twitter)

Although low vaccination rates may well explain the outbreak, coverage is much higher than 5% in local authorities throughout England.

About 89% of two-year-olds in England have received the first dose of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccine coverage is similar in the West Midlands as a whole, although it is about 82% in Birmingham. Hackney in London has the lowest vaccine coverage of any local authority area in the country, at about 68%.

The lowest measure of MMR coverage in the West Midlands is 75%, which is the percentage of children in Birmingham who have received both doses by the age of five.

We can’t rule out the possibility that some very small areas of the country may have vaccination rates as low as 5%, but we have seen no evidence for this. 

After Full Fact got in touch with BBC News, the line in the article was changed to say: “A very low vaccination rate in some neighbourhoods across the region has been attributed to the rise.” They did not respond to explain where the 5% figure came from. The UKHSA also told us that it asked BBC News to remove the 5% figure.

(We also think the article means that the rise in measles cases was attributed to the low vaccination rate, rather than the other way around.)

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What’s happening with measles?

The article describes a large rise in the number of children infected and hospitalised with measles in the West Midlands.

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause serious complications. Most people can avoid catching it by getting the MMR vaccine, which is offered to all children in the UK.

However, MMR vaccination rates in England have fallen below the recommended level of 95% in recent years. 

We have often written about vaccine misinformation, which may partly explain recent low vaccination rates

Bad information about vaccines could be seriously harmful if people use it to make decisions about their health.

Image courtesy of CDC

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