– in the Scottish Parliament at on 1 February 2024.

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Photo of Stephanie Callaghan Stephanie Callaghan Scottish National Party

4. To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Government is taking to prevent a resurgence of measles in Scotland. (S6F-02778)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Cases of measles in Europe and England continue to rise, due to undervaccination, while we have seen only two laboratory-confirmed cases of measles to date in Scotland since October. We are acting now to prevent the spread and to protect people. Public Health Scotland has alerted NHS Scotland, and its representatives have met local health protection teams and immunisation co-ordinators to set out measures that need to be taken. Those include early detection and notification, infection control, contact tracing and post-exposure prophylaxis for vulnerable contacts to try to ensure that cases are contained and do not spread any further.

Immunisation remains the most effective way to prevent illness from infectious disease, and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is extremely effective at preventing measles. Anyone who has not had both doses of the free MMR vaccine should visit the NHS Inform website and find out how to arrange an appointment.

Photo of Stephanie Callaghan Stephanie Callaghan Scottish National Party

Although Scotland continues to perform really well across the four nations of the United Kingdom in its uptake of childhood immunisations, recent data from Public Health Scotland highlights a gradual decline. The overall uptake of both doses has fallen below the World Health Organization’s target of 90 per cent—a critical level that protects against the return of large outbreaks. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to highlight the importance of receiving both doses of the MMR vaccine? What strategies are in place to ensure easy access to follow-up appointments for children in cases where vaccinations—whether one or both doses—have been missed?

The First Minister:

Given the very serious nature of measles and the current risk of importation and onward transmission, we are working with Public Health Scotland and NHS boards on a range of measures to promote vaccination uptake. NHS Inform has been updated to ensure that information is available for the public on how they can receive the measles vaccination. Letters were issues to parents of pupils at nursery schools, in primary 1 and in secondary 1, highlighting the importance of ensuring that young people are up to date with their vaccinations.

Boards have been requested to undertake an MMR status check of all pupils in S1. That check was previously performed in S3, but bringing it forward to S1 provides more opportunities for those who are unvaccinated or undervaccinated to obtain the vaccination that they require.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I am very grateful for the previous answer from the First Minister. Work has been undertaken in our universities to ensure that measles vaccinations are up to date. He has talked about the work at S1. Can he give us information on any initiatives that are aimed specifically at increasing awareness among parents, guardians and teachers about the importance of maintaining up-to-date measles vaccination by having the two doses?

The First Minister:

I thank Martin Whitfield for his very important question, and he is right to refer to higher education, too. I will ask the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care to write to Martin Whitfield with the full detail of what we have done, including the issuing of letters to parents of nursery school pupils and other pupils in the 2023-24 intake.

The chief medical officer has also sent a variety of letters to health professionals about their interactions with parents and families on the importance of the vaccination, which are often in primary care. I will ensure that the Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care writes to Martin Whitfield with more details about the actions that we have taken in that regard.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The worryingly low uptake of the MMR and flu vaccines in the Highlands increases the risk to public health and the risk of an outbreak of measles. Will the First Minister and his Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care ask NHS Highland to work with general practices such as that in Nairn, which is keen to resume local provision of the vaccination service from general practices, to bring up vaccination to safe levels? I believe that that approach is favoured by the British Medical Association.

The First Minister:

Fergus Ewing is right to raise the issue of the particularly low levels of vaccination in Highland, which are concerning. I give him some reassurance that engagement with the health board is already happening.

Fergus Ewing has raised the issue before—he raised it with me in relation to Covid vaccinations, as well—but I am worried about levels of vaccination in Highland. We are taking that up in engagement with the NHS board and will ask the direct question about what the barrier is for general practices that want to resume. We will examine whether the lower uptake in vaccination in Highland is the result of the model that is in place there. I will ensure that Fergus Ewing is kept up to date on those discussions.