Fears over the MMR jab are “unfounded” according to Norfolk-based consultant
- Credit: PA
It is a controversy which shows no signs of abating, but as the blame for the current measles outbreak in Wales is split between the government, the media and the man who suggested more research was needed into the MMR jab, TARA GREAVES discovers the situation in this area.
The decision over whether children should have the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) jab is still an agonising one for many parents – despite the possible link between the injection and autism being rejected.
However, for the first time since 1997/98, coverage rates for the vaccine across the country have risen above 90pc – and in the east of England edging towards 95pc in relation to the first of the two doses of the injection that children are given.
Dr Giri Shankar, a consultant in communicable disease control for Public Health England (Anglia), formerly the Health Protection Agency, based in Thetford, said: 'In terms of coverage rates in this area for the first injection it has gradually got better over the years and we're about 93pc... but we would like rates to be higher for the second injection which are about 90pc.'
Dr Shankar said he could understand parents' fears following publication in the late 90s of a study by former surgeon and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield which raised the possibility that the jab may be linked to autism and bowel disease and called for more research but their apprehension was now 'unfounded'.
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'A lot of parents said they have this fear over side effects and the link between MMR and autism which has been completely rubbished. There is no evidence to support this claim but on the other hand there is plenty of very high quality robust evidence to support that taking MMR is beneficial and protective,' he said.
'Millions of doses of MMR have been used worldwide and if it was such a problem I don't think people would have just kept quiet.
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'It's unfounded apprehension among certain parents which is preventing them getting their children immunised.'
Dr Shankar said it was never a wrong time to be vaccinated whatever the age and anyone worried should contact their GP.
In the years following Mr Wakefield's study and as a result of the subsequent negative publicity, 79.9pc of under two year olds had the first dose of the MMR vaccine (2003/4).
Latest figures show that in 2011/12, 91.2pc of under two year olds had the first dose of the vaccine compared to 89.1pc in 2010-11.
At no point did Mr Wakefield advise parents not to get their children vaccinated against measles, mumps or rubella – only that they should have single vaccinations rather than the combined one.
The single jabs are not available on the NHS as experts believe there is a risk that fewer children would receive all the necessary injections (up to six), increasing the levels of measles, mumps and rubella in the UK.
The current epidemic in and around Swansea, in south Wales, shows no sign of slowing despite major efforts to contain the problem. Health experts expect cases among children susceptible to the disease to increase on the return to school after Easter.
Dr Shankar added: 'Ideally we should aim for 100pc coverage but I think there will always be some people who will be unvaccinated – not necessarily for fear of adverse effects but a whole host of reasons, for example they move out of the country. As a health service our responsibility, not just with MMR but all vaccines, is to reach 100pc.'