Vaccination campaigns suspended amid MMR shortage

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People requesting the MMR vaccine were turned away when stocks fell to "extremely low" levels after a mumps breakout.

People requesting the MMR vaccine were turned away when stocks fell to "extremely low" levels after a mumps breakout.

The Department of Health warned family doctors in a letter last week that the vaccine should be reserved for young children. Catch-up campaigns, in which GPs offerteenagers the MMR jab because of a surge in mumps cases, have had to be put on hold. The MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 and many teenagers aged 16 and over missed out on it as babies.

The Department of Health has spent the past seven years trying to bolster public confidence in the triple vaccine after claims that it could cause autism and bowel disease.

The claims have not been substantiated but vaccination rates have fallen to 80 per cent nationally and to 50 per cent in some areas, below the level necessary for full protection.

Although the department backed catch-up campaigns to vaccinate teenagers, it appears not to have anticipated the pressure this would put on vaccine stocks.

According to the doctor's magazine Pulse, regional immunisation co-ordinators have told primary care trusts to suspend catch-up campaigns for teenagers. This has led to warnings of a further surge in mumps cases, which are up tenfold in a year.

Health department officials played down the shortage yesterday, insisting that it was temporary.

A spokeswoman said the shortage had lasted less than a week and new supplies were now available.

She said: "We notified immunisation co-ordinators that there were low stocks of the MMR vaccine as so much has been used in catch-up campaigns. Current supplies had been prioritised for routine childhood immunisation."

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