The number of children receiving the MMR vaccine has risen for the first time in more than a year. Uptake of the measles, mumps and rubella jab increased by 0.9 per cent in the third quarter of last year, to 79.8 per cent of all two-year-olds, figures released yesterday showed.
Immunisation levels for MMR have been falling every quarter since April 2002 and have significantly decreased since fears over the vaccine first emerged in 1998.
Health campaigners are hoping that the rise between July and September last year means the worst of the crisis over the combined vaccination has passed.
Uptake plummeted in 1999 after a researcher, Dr Andrew Wakefield, published a paper which suggested MMR could be linked to bowel disease, autism and other disorders. Thousands of parents have refused to have their children vaccinated, but the Government has ruled out providing single vaccines on the NHS. Most doctors agree the vaccine is safe and studies have found no link to autism.
Dr Wakefield has continued to insist that the vaccine can trigger serious problems among a small group of vulnerable children. A legal action by parents claiming their children have been damaged by the vaccine will be heard in the High Court this year.
The latest figures were collected by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) from local Primary Care Trusts. But at 79.8 per cent, MMR uptake in Britain is still below the 95 per cent level which the World Health Organisation says needs to be in place for the whole population to be protected from the diseases.
The areas with the largest increases were Wales (1.5 per cent), the West Midlands (1.3 per cent), the South-east and the South-west (0.8 per cent).