U.K. measles outbreak caused in part by Wakefield study

Low vaccination rates, particularly among teenagers, may have contributed to the current measles outbreak in England and Wales.

The U.K. Health Protection Agency recently said that the outbreak has lead to the highest number of measles cases in England and Wales since 1994. In 2012, there were 2,016 confirmed cases of the once common childhood illness, according to the Telegraph.

Uptake rates for the MMR vaccine, and vaccines in general, dropped sharply in Britain after now discredited claims by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that it could cause autism. It took more than a decade for them to recover. It is believed that the gap in coverage has worked its way through to the current outbreak, in which teenagers have the highest infection rate.

"Coverage of MMR is now at historically high levels but measles is highly infectious and can spread easily among communities that are poorly vaccinated, and can affect anyone who is susceptible, including toddlers in whom vaccination has been delayed," Dr. Mary Ramsay, the head of immunization at HPA, said, the Telegraph reports. "Older children who were not vaccinated at the routine age, who may now be teenagers, are at particular risk of becoming exposed, while at school for example."

Measles vaccination rates also dropped in Europe after Wakefield's autism claims. Over the last few years, countries on the continent have had more severe measles outbreaks than the one experienced in the United Kingdom.