Parents seeking single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are facing waits of up to six months as private clinics struggle to meet demand.
Requests have soared since Christmas, when Tony Blair refused to disclose whether his baby, Leo, had had the combined MMR jab, and some GPs are profiting from the panic.
The Independent contacted 14 clinics and private GPs listed on the website of Jabs, the anti-MMR pressure group, yesterday. Most carried recorded messages saying that, owing to demand, they were unable to help new patients.
One of the few to answer was Dr Christopher Parry's clinic in Colchester, but it was fully booked until July, a receptionist said. Dr Parry charges £75 per single vaccine and treats five patients an hour in his Tuesday afternoon clinic, representing a potential gross income of £1,500 before expenses.
Dr Peter Mansfield, who runs a clinic in Louth, Lincolnshire, three days a week is booked up until April, his receptionist said. He charges £84 family membership plus amounts ranging from £19 to £45 for the three vaccines, representing an approximate potential gross income of more than £2,000 a week.
In Edinburgh, Dr Peter Copp charges £280 for a course of the three single vaccines and is reported to have immunised 3,500 to 4,000 children in 18 months. His firm, GP Plus, which offers services mainly to corporate clients and also provides cosmetic surgery, was not returning calls yesterday.
The rates charged by some doctors were criticised yesterday by the Royal College of GPs. Dr David Haslam, chairman of the college's council, said: "I certainly understand that parents are very concerned. But I find it very disappointing that medical colleagues are exploiting the marketplace and parental anxiety. There is no proof that single vaccines are safer than MMR, and there are fewer studies of single vaccines than of MMR. I would not prescribe single vaccines."
Parents wanting the single vaccines face a difficult search. Desumo healthcare in Ledbury, Herefordshire, said it was unable to take new bookings. Dr Richard Halvorsen's clinic in central London had been "overwhelmed by calls". A receptionist for Dr Peter Campbell in London said he had no vaccine.
Bupa, the private health company, has banned two GPs from offering single vaccines at its hospital in Manchester. The GPs, part of the Manchester Independent Family Practice, had rented consulting rooms from Bupa, in which they had been giving single vaccines to children of worried parents.
A spokeswoman for Bupa denied it was responding to government pressure. "If people want single vaccinations we are happy to help them to go to other places. But it would be wrong for Bupa hospitals to have a policy of giving it."Reuse content