The scare over the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) has led to a surge in demand for separate vaccines, official figures show.

The scare over the triple measles, mumps and rubella vaccination (MMR) has led to a surge in demand for separate vaccines, official figures show.

Parents alarmed by reports linking MMR with bowel disease and autism are flocking to private clinics prepared to provide the vaccinations one by one.

Only the single rubella vaccine is licensed for use in the UK. It is given to girls in their early teens who missed having it as babies. Single measles and mumps vaccines are imported.

The latest government figures show that the number of requests for imports of measles doses rose six-fold from 11,818 in 2001 to 71,859 in 2002. Requests for separate mumps vaccines more than doubled from 17,800 to 39,089.

The Department of Health said there were no figures to show whether the number of doses requested had been imported but it was likely to be higher than the number used.

Jonathan Harris, of the pressure group Jabs, said parents would no longer put up with being denied the choice. "There is a whole surge of parents who do not want to be bullied into doing something they do not want to do."

Demand for single jabs has grown since researchers from the Royal Free Hospital in London first reported a possible link between MMR and autism in 1998. Despite the failure of subsequent studies to substantiate the finding, some parents are convinced that giving the triple vaccine imposes too great a strain on a baby's immune system, which can be avoided by giving the vaccines separately.

But Dr David Salisbury, the Government's chief immunisation officer, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, which obtained the figures, that the use of single vaccines was less safe.

"If you choose to vaccinate your child with single vaccines you elect to put your child and actually other people's children at risk because you put gaps between the vaccines that are not necessary [leaving the children at risk of infection]."

The vast majority of parents still supported MMR, he said. "Eight out of 10 children have had the MMR on time. Nine out of 10 have had it by the time they go to school."

The separate vaccines were not licensed in the UK because the MMR was safer. There are an estimated 36 doctors and clinics offering the single vaccines for between £60 and £150.

Comments