The Department of Health said yesterday that Dr Kenneth Calman would be inviting leaders of different faiths to London next week. 'We are taking this issue very seriously and we want to offer clarification and reassurance,' said a spokesman. Dr Calman added that a spread of the boycott would 'be of enormous concern'.
His remarks reflect the fear that religious teachers and leaders could destroy any hope of eliminating rubella (German measles) by 2000, the Department of Health's target date.
Public health officers began a vaccination campaign of seven million children this month amid fears that there could be 50 deaths from measles and 100,000 cases this winter.
Attempts to prevent immunisation began last week when the Ampleforth and Stonyhurst Roman Catholic colleges withdrew from the programme because the vaccine comes from cells grown on tissue derived from a foetus aborted for medical reasons almost 30 years ago. Dr Calman has pointed out that no tissue is given to children.
On Friday some Islamic leaders in Leicester said that Muslims should not allow their children to be vaccinated until national Muslim leaders had discussed the issue. The calls to delay immunisation were supported by members of the unelected Muslim 'parliament'.
Yesterday, Manzur Mogul, chairman of Leicestershire race relations committee, emphasised that only 'one or two mosques' had advised that children not be vaccinated until the issue had been resolved.