No one, Jo says, ever told her about SSPE. Now, aged 40, her daughter requires 24-hour medical care, which Jo delivers from 7am to midnight, when a night sitter takes over. Sarah had been due to get married two months after receiving her diagnosis but by the time the date rolled around, her state was such that “it would never have been legal”.
The MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 and is most effective when delivered via two doses, the first of which is usually delivered within a month of a child’s first birthday. Those who have it are 93 per cent immune to measles, mumps and rubella, which rises by four points if they have the booster. In England, just 87 per cent of children have the second dose by the time of their fifth birthday – below the required level for herd immunity – making it the third worst in high income countries, behind the US and France.
Having contracted measles as a child, in 1957, Stephen Morse, a virologist and Professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, is in the unique position of having seen both its effects and eradication. “I did survive,” he recalls of the illness, which at a time without a vaccine plagued “everyone I knew.” He finds it “puzzling” that, having developed such an effective means of control, the threat it poses is not being taken seriously.