MMR and measles in South Wales: In fear of the unknown, we risked the well-known

Common sense eventually triumphed over MMR jab scaremongering, but it took 15 years, hundreds of new measles cases and countless misinformed headlines

Share

If you’re looking for proof that common sense eventually triumphs over scaremongering, the long queues at clinics across South Wales provide it. Parents waited for hours this weekend to have their children inoculated against measles, mumps and rubella – the MMR vaccine. And they waited because measles, mumps and rubella aren’t a necessary part of childhood, like grazed knees. They are dangerous diseases: measles can cause brain damage, deafness and death.

It is 15 years since Andrew Wakefield published his now-discredited paper in The Lancet suggesting a link between autism and the MMR jab. The subsequent media storm proved that many journalists had little notion of science. Yet vaccination rates collapsed in parts of the country, including South Wales, where a major measles outbreak has now occurred. Health officials are suggesting a link between a local newspaper campaign in the late 1990s and the fall-off in vaccinations which has allowed the current spate to take hold. Wakefield, meanwhile, moved to Texas and was last seen trying to flog a reality TV show about autism.

The autism issue has been fraught with difficulty, precisely because parents of autistic children are having a tough enough time without being dismissed as gullible fools by an impatient scientific community. But plenty of autism campaigners feel equally irate. Ari Ne’eman – the first person with an autism spectrum disorder to sit on the US National Council on Disability – points out that “the idea of the poor, pitiful disabled person that we need to save… belongs on the ash heap of history”.

Undeniably, there are still parents who refuse to vaccinate their children because, although they don’t believe in the benefits of inoculation, they do fear what they perceive to be unknown risks. The trouble is that measles comes with very well-known risks – but they were simply forgotten by too many of us when everyone was vaccinated. Measles seemed to be nothing worse than a mild childhood illness from which everyone recovered in a week. Then, in 2006, a 13-year-old boy became the first person in Britain in more than a decade to die of the disease.

I spent a while researching the consequences of measles for a novel. I wanted to look at how a character might be scarred – literally and metaphorically – by the choices her parents made, as they tried to do the right thing but were bombarded with conflicting information. And I wanted to consider the impact that her illness would have on her parents: on the guilt and blame which would follow what they eventually felt was the wrong decision.

South Wales surely proves that most of the media has become vastly more responsible when writing about medical issues. Hopefully, the days of scare-tactic headlines are behind us and parents can make an informed choice, rather than a frightened one.

www.nataliehaynes.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn