Letter: Children and MMR

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The Independent Culture
Sir, Your well-meaning leading article on measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is a piece of great foolishness. You say that it is a scandal that the Government will not let people have the three components separately, and that the NHS must allow patients' wishes to be respected.

As a paediatrician, I have respected parents' wishes scrupulously in matters concerning immunisation for the past 15 years. The last vaccine scare was about whooping cough. I have spent many hours putting the evidence one way and the other to parents about that vaccine, explaining my view of the balance of risk, and justifying it with evidence. I then recommend in favour of immunisation but respect parents' wishes not to be bullied into giving it, if they cannot bring themselves to, after my explanation.

MMR given in separate components is different. There is no evidence at all that it is safer, only feelings like your "not unreasonable view". Here, I am the one who is being bullied into giving something that I think is wrong. If parents had the right to refuse whooping cough vaccine when they felt is was wrong, I have the right to refuse to give something for which there is no evidence of benefit, and some evidence of harm.

As you say, we are rightly moving away from professionals dictating to consumers. We are also moving towards professionals having to justify with evidence, everything they do. That means that the NHS cannot be considered like your local supermarket where the consumer can dictate to the professional.

FRANCIS SHEEHY SKEFFINGTON

Wakefield, West Yorkshire

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