The best protection against measles

Measles cases are rising across the country, with a particular increase in London in recent weeks. TikTok has launched #GrabAJab: an in-app campaign to encourage people to get the MMR vaccine, featuring expert NHS voices and links to NHS information.

Ahmed Ezzat, academic general surgery registrar, and Dr Liz Whittaker, consultant in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology, feature in this campaign. We sat down with them to find out more about #GrabAJab and measles more widely.

Tell us more about the #GrabAJab campaign and your involvement.

Ahmed: As an academic general surgery registrar at Imperial College Healthcare and father to two children under three, I find it essential to apply medical knowledge within a wider public health context. This is why as @DrMishMash on TikTok and other social media platforms, I initially covered the measles outbreak to inform the public and tackle misinformation around vaccine safety. On this basis, I was approached by TikTok to front a national campaign to raise awareness of measles and address questions around MMR vaccines. This national campaign was called for by MPs and has received endorsement by the NHS. It aims to deliver accessible and bitesize content in a format that is verified and current with social media usage amongst a wide segment of society.

Liz: I have been doing some education sessions for healthcare professionals about measles locally and nationally, so someone introduced me to Ahmed. It was great fun to film the TikTok videos, and I’m happy to help in any way to limit the risk to children and their families of nasty infections like measles. We want to reassure worried parents about the safety of vaccines and how brilliant they are at protecting us from nasty infections.

I hope that my insights – such as what measles might look like on darker skin, how it might affect teenagers travelling, or women planning their pregnancy – are as representative and inclusive as possible to the users landing on the #GrabAJab content.

What are some of the main signs and symptoms of measles?

Liz: Measles usually starts with cold-like symptoms, followed by a rash a few days later. The cold-like symptoms are commonly referred to as the three c’s: coryza (runny nose), cough and conjunctivitis (red eyes). Measles spreads very easily, mainly through coughing and sneezing, and can cause serious illness in some people. Unvaccinated people can get infected, regardless of their age.

What should you do if you think you or a member of your family has measles?

It's very unlikely to be measles if you've had both doses of the MMR vaccine or you've had measles before. If you do think you or a loved one has measles, ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS111. NHS England have further information on their website on the symptoms to look out for, including when you should call 999.

What is the best form of protection against measles?

Liz: Vaccination is very effective – one dose is 95% effective and two doses is 99% effective.

The MMR vaccine contains a weak version of measles that doesn’t infect you but makes your immune system respond so that if you are exposed to measles you are protected. Common side effects are usually mild and only last two to three days and include a raised, blotchy rash (similar to a measles rash), feeling unwell and a high temperature around seven to 11 days after the vaccination.

If you are infected, you can also help reduce the risk of spreading by washing your hands often with soap and warm water, using tissues when you cough or sneeze and throwing your used tissues in the bin. It's also a good idea to avoid sharing things like cutlery, cups, towels, clothes, or bedding. You’re infectious from when you first have symptoms (around four days before the rash appears) until four days after you get the rash.

Should everyone get an MMR vaccine?

Liz: Most people should get vaccinated, if they haven’t been already. We don’t vaccinate pregnant women, those with weak immune systems or known anaphylaxis (serious allergic reaction) to the ingredients of the vaccine. You can book an appointment through your GP practice. If you are not sure if you have been vaccinated and have lost your red book (record of childhood vaccination) it is safer to have an extra dose than to be unvaccinated.

Vaccination is particularly important for those living in London right now as measles cases are increasing. NHS England, NHS trusts (including Imperial College Healthcare), and the UK Health Security Agency are working together to identify cases, break the chain of transmission and protect those who are vulnerable and exposed. The current case load of patients presenting with measles is also putting pressure on our front line healthcare services, so if you can go and get vaccinated, then today is the day.

What are the benefits of using social media to inform and engage the public in discussions around health?

Ahmed: Many of us increasingly seem to rely on platforms such as TikTok as their first port of call to know about health, news or medical advice. With millions of daily users and an ever-expanding age group using the platform multiple times a day, it is our responsibility as clinicians to deliver information in the format the public uses so that we can reach the widest audience possible.

TikTok really does allow for maximum exposure. For example, I have created content on childhood infections and sudden infant death syndrome and views have ranged from 500K to 4.5M, with and the videos approximately 170K shares. This is transformative for people, such as parents who have messaged me with constructive actions that have improved their health.

With so much misinformation online, and particularly via social media, why is this campaign different?

Ahmed: A recent report by the culture, media and sports committee group of MPs to the government has suggested misinformation should be tackled via social media in a verified way. Here is a living example of what this looks like and why we should run public health campaigns. This campaign is a collaboration between a social media platform and NHS clinicians and is supported by MPs, Steve Russell, NHS national director for vaccinations and screening, and the NHS more widely. The content has in part been filmed at St Mary’s Hospital (London), as well as in Birmingham and Brixton, to represent a broad demographic. The key difference with this campaign is that instead of telling people what to do, we are answering common vaccine questions and responding to follower feedback from my previous content on measles. I also follow this feedback up with live general advice sessions, which enable my audiences to feel listened to.

You’ve been running your own TikTok account for some time now and have gathered quite a following. How does your work at the Trust inform this?

Ahmed: Over the past 12 months I have increased my commitment to posting content via TikTok. My aim is to use my background as a clinician to improve health for the widest possible audience. I am constantly exposed to opportunities within the Trust, and I am surrounded by forward-thinking and innovative colleagues – both of which help me create evidence-based content on TikTok and other social media channels. 

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