Parents shun MMR vaccine as measles fears grow

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More parents than ever are shunning the controversial MMR vaccine, according to the latest governnment figures.









More parents than ever are shunning the controversial MMR vaccine, according to the latest governnment figures.

The low take–up emerged as tests are being carried out on 26 suspected cases of measles in London and the North East were widely expected to be confirmed as positive later this week.

Take–up of the MMR jab has fallen to a record low amid fears that it is linked to autism and bowel disorders.

Three cases of measles – which can prove fatal – have already been confirmed in children from Streatham, south London, where take–up levels of the vaccine are among the lowest in the country. None of the infected children had received the MMR jab.

Meanwhile, the results of tests on 22 suspected cases from the same area were due back tomorrow or on Thursday, while four cases have been detected in the Gateshead and South Tyneside area.

GPs reported the cases to Gateshead and South Tyneside Health Authority, which has a 91.4 per cent immunisation rate compared to the Government's recommended 95 per cent.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn today battled to reassure parents that the combined MMR, rather than single injections, was the best and most effective way to protect children against measles, mumps and rubella.

He said: "I know there are real concerns about this among many parents.

"But the vaccine is the safest way of protecting children against what can be potentially life–threatening conditions. This advice applies across the world.

"If I thought there was a safer alternative to MMR I would sanction it."

However, the latest figures show UK–wide take–up of the MMR jab plummeted to a record low between July and September 2001 with a coverage rate of just 84.2%.

A spokeswoman for the Public Health Laboratory Service said: "This is the lowest we have seen for the UK since monitoring started in 1995."

The Measles Mumps Rubella vaccination coverage in the Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham area of London, where the outbreak was confirmed, hit just 72.3 per cent in one quarterly period. This compares to a national average of 84% between 2000 and 2001.

A Health Department spokesman said that any rate below 95 per cent did not give "herd immunity".

He said: "This means it is not just children who have not had the jab who are at risk, but those below the age at which it is given.

"It is important that health authorities should encourage people to take up MMR, which is the safest way of protecting against these diseases."

The cases come just 10 days after nearby Durham Health Authority reported there had been four confirmed cases in its area during the previous two months.

Last month, the number of children vaccinated hit "dangerously low" levels of 77 per cent in Halton, north Cheshire.

Health chiefs warned that youngsters could be at grave risk if the figure fell still further.

Last year, there were 2,466 suspected cases of measles reported and 74 cases confirmed in England and Wales.

Prime Minister Tony Blair and other health ministers have come under pressure to say if their children have had the MMR vaccine.

It is given to a child at 12 to 15 months, with a second booster dose being administered at between three and five years of age.

But about 2,000 families in Britain have taken legal action, claiming their children have been damaged by the jab.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The Government's immunisation policy is a public health disaster.

"Labour health ministers have simply failed to grasp the importance of establishing public confidence in the MMR vaccine.

"They have only themselves to blame for the catastrophic decline in the level of immunisation in many parts of the country. As ever, the real victims are likely to be innocent children rather than inept ministers."

The National Autistic Society said the Government should make single vaccinations available until research to put people's minds at rest has been carried out.



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