The controversy over Tony Blair's stance on the measles, mumps and rubella jab deepened yesterday when a Labour MP called on all ministers to disclose whether their children had received the vaccine.
Although the Government is insisting that Britain's parents must accept the MMR vaccine, the Prime Minister refused this week to reveal whether Leo, his 18-month-old son, had been vaccinated. Mr Blair has told all ministers to remain silent about their own children.
Yesterday Dr Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North and chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, called for Downing Street's "gag" to be lifted.
Dr Gibson said he understood Mr Blair's claim that he wanted to protect the privacy of his children and that there was a "difficult dividing line" between family interests and government policy. But he stressed that "people look to leaders" on complex scientific issues. "I think MMR is in that category," he told Today on BBC Radio 4.
A small number of researchers have tried to link the MMR jab to autism and bowel disease, but official government policy, the World Health Organisation and most health experts support the vaccination programme.
The Department of Health is determined to bolster the reputation of MMR and many of its ministers, including Jacqui Smith and John Hutton, are understood to have given it to their own children. Ministry officials are furious Downing Street has enforced a gag.
A Downing Street spokeswoman refused to deny that an edict had been sent to ministers. "Downing Street is in contact with other departments all the time and they are clearly aware of our position," she said.
The strategy began to look faintly ridiculous this week when Ms Smith, a minister at the Department of Health, avoided answering repeated questions on the subject when she appeared on Today.
The Prime Minister's stance was supported yesterday by George Kassianos, an immunisation expert from the Royal College of General Practitioners. He said: "Whatever we say and do is between the patient and the family doctor and it has to stay like that otherwise patients will lose confidence in the NHS."
Only 87 per cent of children were vaccinated against the diseases in the year to March compared with 94.5 per cent for diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
Mr Blair was challenged on the issue at Prime Minister's Question Time this week by the Tory MP Julie Kirkbride.
Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said that Mr Blair was right to protect the confidentiality of his children. He said: "Anti-MMR MPs like Julie Kirkbride should argue their case on the science and when science does not support their position they should not bring their own or anyone else's children into the argument."Reuse content