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Mother whose son died after catching measles urges parents to ‘vaccinate more’

A mother whose child died aged six from a brain inflammation caused by measles hopes sharing her story will encourage parents to “vaccinate more”.

Gemma Larkman-Jones, 45, from Brixton, south London, said she was “numb” after her son, Samuel, developed subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), a rare form of progressive brain inflammation, after catching measles.

Ms Larkman-Jones, an admin officer, believes his death in 2019 was avoidable had he been vaccinated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab, but said he had been put on a delayed vaccination programme.

“Samuel didn’t need to die and that’s the guilt I carry every day with me,” she told the PA news agency.

A young boy cradling his ill younger brother
Samuel’s older brother, Freddie (left), cradling Samuel days before he slipped into a coma (Gemma Larkman-Jones/PA)

“He was on a delayed programme because he had constant chest infections which later turned out to be asthma.

“(Doctors) wanted him to be as healthy as he could before he had the MMR.”

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned that measles is spreading among unvaccinated communities.

She said a “national call to action” is needed across the country to ensure children are vaccinated against potentially deadly measles.

Vaccination rates across the country have been dropping, but there are particular concerns about some regions, including parts of London and the West Midlands.

Figures released by the UKHSA show there have been 216 confirmed measles cases and 103 probable cases in the West Midlands since October 1 last year.

A young boy lying in a hospital bed
Samuel slipped into a coma in 2019 and died in April that year (Gemma Larkman-Jones/PA)

Ms Larkman-Jones wants more parents to consider having their children vaccinated sooner.

She said: “I honestly think that if people knew that this was a possibility they would vaccinate more.

“Even if it just makes one parent question, how many lives could that one child being vaccinated save?

“I don’t want any other parent to go through this.”

She also wants to debunk preconceptions people may have about measles and hopes to highlight the potentially dangerous side effects of the virus.

“People just think it’s a bit of a temperature, but I think they’ve forgotten that people can go blind, people can go deaf, people who seemingly sailed through measles can end up years down the line with SSPE,” she said.

Picture of a young boy dressed in school uniform and wearing a red coat
Samuel was described by his mother, Gemma Larkman-Jones, as a ‘very clever little boy’ (Gemma Larkman-Jones/PA)

“I honestly do believe that people just think that measles, like chickenpox, is part of being a child and it’s so not.

“I think (my story) will make people think ‘although it’s a risk, it’s still a risk, am I going to risk my child dying for something that he doesn’t need to?'”

Samuel developed measles aged two in 2014 and recovered from the virus, but was admitted to hospital in 2019 after Ms Larkman-Jones noticed he often lost his balance when walking.

In February 2019 Samuel was transferred to St Thomas’ Hospital where a lumbar puncture and an MRI test found he had SSPE.

Ms Larkman-Jones said: “He started to lose the function to eat and swallow. He couldn’t walk and he couldn’t talk, we had to tube feed him.”

She said that on March 17, 2019, Samuel fell into a “vegetative state” after going into a coma, as doctors told her her son’s SSPE condition was incurable.

She said: “(Doctors) started talking about ‘if the worst were to happen would you want (resuscitation)?’

“I remember thinking, I’m just coming to terms with this disease I’ve never even heard of before and you’re talking about this?”

Samuel, described by his mother as “a very clever little boy”, died on April 30, 2019.

Ms Larkman-Jones wants to share her story to help highlight the risks of SSPE and measles.

“Everyone kind of knows that you might get deafness or you might get blind from measles, but it seems that SSPE isn’t talked about because it’s rare,” she said.

“I think if anyone’s got a chance of getting it people should be made aware of it.”