Children are “suffering needlessly” as a result of a decline in parents taking up the offer for routine childhood vaccines, health experts have said.

Officials said that there are “very real current consequences” linked to a dip in vaccination rates – including baby deaths.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is launching a new campaign to try and boost the number of parents getting their children vaccinated amid low uptake.

The new campaign features children asking parents whether their vaccines are up to date.

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“If we’re not vaccinated, we’re not protected,” the children in the video say. “We could get seriously ill, risking life-long disabilities.”

Experts said that children’s voices “resonated” with parents.

The routine childhood immunisation programme in England offers protection against 13 diseases including measles, polio, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough, rubella and meningococcal infections – which can lead to meningitis.

But Dr Vanessa Saliba, consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, said there had been a decline in vaccine uptake over the last decade which had been “exacerbated” since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Uptake is particularly low in inner city areas, experts said.

The campaign, which will be launched on Monday, comes as cases of measles continue to rise.

The UKHSA said it had now recorded 650 cases since October – the majority of cases were recorded in Birmingham and the West Midlands but clusters were now being seen in other parts of the country including London, the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North West.

Dr Saliba added: “Measles can be a serious infection that can lead to children being unwell and in hospital, and so it is a concern that since October we have seen this rise in cases.”

Measles symptoms to look out for

The earliest signs of measles infection include:

  • high fever
  • runny nose
  • cough
  • red and watery eyes
  • koplik spots (small red spots with bluish-white centres) inside the mouth

After several days, a rash appears, usually on the face and upper neck.

The rash spreads, eventually reaching the hands and feet and lasts 5 to 6 days before fading.

Measles is commonly confused with other infections that can lead to a rash.

Treatment for measles

There is no specific treatment for measles, and most mild cases will be recommended rest to recover from the illness.

Government guidance says: “Most patients with uncomplicated measles will recover with rest and supportive treatment (such as hydration and antipyretics).

“Secondary bacterial infections should be treated with antibiotics. All suspected cases should be confirmed, ideally by testing of oral fluid (saliva), but management will often have to be based on a clinical and epidemiological risk assessment of the likelihood of the case being true measles.”