MMR chief blames the media for jab 'errors'

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The doctor behind the nation's childhood immunisation campaign launched a scathing attack yesterday on those who continue to question the safety of the triple MMR vaccine.

His intervention came as the Government was forced to admit it was losing the public relations battle to shore up public support for the measles, mumps and rubella triple vaccine.

David Salisbury, a paediatrician for more than 30 years, said any change in the present policy to one in which parents were offered the choice between a single or triple vaccine – as suggested by Liam Fox, the Tory health spokesman – would be highly damaging for children. "The health service has never given parents the choice to do harm before," Dr Salisbury, head of the immunisation group in the Department of Health, told The Independent. "Why should we actually contrive to cause harm?"

He poured scorn on sections of the media for undermining the MMR vaccine, and questioned if he could serve a government that reverted to single injections for measles, mumps and rubella. "I would find it extremely difficult to be promoting a policy I thought was dangerous," Dr Salisbury said. "I never went into medicine to do things that are dangerous and I would find it enormously difficult to implement a policy I sincerely felt would put children's lives at risk."

He said Whitehall was working on ways to swing public opinion behind the triple vaccine. "We'll be taking a very much more active approach in communicating to parents and providing them with the best information and the best opportunities possible to have their children immunised," he said. "If they [parents] are getting all their information from the newspapers then quite a bit of what they are getting is misinformation. Every day I read articles in our newspapers that contain factual errors. I don't know if that is deliberate misinformation, or poor journalism, but every day I see factual errors given credibility.

"One of the first patients I saw [as a young doctor] was a 12-year-old boy who had come into hospital to die because his brain had been so devastated by the long-term effects of measles," he said. "And one of the first babies I had seen in the neonatal unit was one who had been damaged by congenital rubella. I don't need to see any of those again, but that will be the consequence of this drive for single vaccines."

Dr Salisbury said the MMR vaccine had never been linked with autism or bowel disease despite repeated assertions to the contrary by some media commentators. "I wonder if at some point all those journalists who have done a great deal to destroy an immunisation programme question what they've done," he said. "You only have to look at the hysteria in our papers and then ask yourself why do the other 90 countries that use this vaccine think we've gone completely mad?"

Dr Salisbury also criticised Andrew Wakefield, the doctor whose research led to the current scare over MMR, for failing to include "very elementary details" about the autistic children he cited in his study.

"How many people picked up the fact that in his paper that went on the internet last week, some of his cases had had measles vaccine not MMR?"