Ignore media scaremongers, PM tells parents

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Tony Blair appealed to parents to ignore "scaremongering" over the controversial MMR vaccine yesterday when the Government tried to halt a slide in public confidence over the three-in-one injection.

The Prime Minister accused the Tories of putting children at risk after the Opposition called for parents to be allowed to opt for separate injections for measles, mumps and rubella for their children.

He told the Commons during Prime Minister's questions: "Scaremongering about this vaccine is wrong. Often scaremongering doesn't matter. In this case it does." Warning that the position the Tories had taken on MMR was "totally irresponsible", Mr Blair declared that the "safety of children was at risk".

Despite fears that the triple vaccine might cause autism, Mr Blair insisted it had been cleared by independent bodies, including the British Medical Association, and was in use in 90 countries. "Every single piece of important research done around the world has found it is important to have the MMR jab in combination and not separate," he said. When Japan opted for separate vaccination between 1994 and 1999, it suffered 85 deaths compared with none in Britain, he added.

Mr Blair was replying to the Tory backbencher George Osborne, who said tens of thousands of parents had not accepted the Government's assurances over the vaccine. "Instead of calling them scare- mongers should you not give them the choice of three separate vaccinations on the NHS?" he asked Mr Blair.

A further eight cases of measles were confirmed in south London, the least immunised area in the country, taking the total to 11. None of the infected children had the MMR jab. There are 18 further cases in the North-east.

Downing Street attacked "media hysteria" over the vaccine and denied a newspaper report that Mr Blair had ordered a review of the MMR jab, including the cost of separate injections for measles, mumps and rubella. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The story is wrong, full stop. No equivocation." He said the issue should not become a "political football". The Public Health minister, Yvette Cooper, emphasised that costs were never a consideration, and said the Government was following the advice of medical experts.

But Number 10 refused to be drawn on whether the Government was drawing up contingency plans and admitted the medical evidence was continually under review.

Liam Fox, the Tory health spokesman, said the fall in the number of children being given MMR had made the Opposition rethink its policy. He said: "It is now clear that the public is not prepared to accept the scientific and medical advice. The resulting crisis in public confidence in the MMR vaccine has led vaccination levels to fall to perilous levels. It is irresponsible for the Government to stand back and do nothing. Some level of protection is better than none at all."

Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, accused the Tories of "playing politics with public health". He said: "It is the height of irresponsibility for the Tory spokesman to call for the provision of what he accepts is a less effective and less safe approach. This will further undermine public confidence in a vaccination programme that is necessary and has been found, on strong scientific evidence, to be safe."

Fifty MPs from all parties tabled a Commons motion condemning "the irresponsible conduct of some sections of the press and media which have undermined public confidence in MMR either by sensationalising the doubts about its safety of a small minority of doctors or by cynically manufacturing a political controversy without regard for public health."

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