More parents reject MMR

by BEEZY MARSH, Daily Mail

A record number of parents are shunning the MMR vaccine, heightening fears that children will be exposed to a major measles epidemic.

In some areas, as many as four in ten children are not having the triple jab which is at the centre of concerns over a possible link to autism and bowel disease.

Demand for single jabs is soaring as uptake of MMR has fallen to a new low of just 58 per cent in parts of London, Health Department figures reveal.

Experts fear serious outbreaks of measles will strike this winter, with cases this year already far outstripping those in 2002.

Yesterday, leading clinics providing single vaccinations reported a flood of calls from anxious parents following a Channel Five drama about fears surrounding the measles, mumps and rubella jab.

Medical experts and the NHS criticised Hear The Silence, which starred Juliet Stephenson, as alarmist and inaccurate.

But Sarah Dean, of Direct Health, said: 'We have been inundated with calls, which is unusual for this time of year.

'We think it may have had something to do with the Channel Five drama. We think 2004 is going to be our busiest year ever.'

The clinic, which has centres in London, Liverpool, Bristol, Brighton, Birmingham, Leeds and Darlington, currently gives single jabs to at least 20,000 children a year.

Kathy Durnford, of single vaccine clinic Healthchoice UK, said: 'The phone lines have been going ballistic. Parents have been worried about MMR and the fact that the NHS did not want the drama to be transmitted has made them even more concerned.'

The Health Department refuses to provide single jabs on the NHS, saying MMR is the best option for children.

Latest figures from the Department reveal uptake of the combined vaccine has fallen to just 78 per cent nationally among two-year-olds.

But in Kensington and Chelsea, only 58 per cent of youngsters have the MMR while in Greenwich the uptake is 59 per cent. In Reading, it is 73 per cent, while in Brighton and Hove the figure has fallen to 70 per cent.

Doctors say coverage of at least 95 per cent is needed to prevent outbreaks of measles.

Latest figures from the Health Protection Agency show that cases of measles in the first nine months of this year stood at 262, compared to 142 for the same period of 2002.

A spokesman said: 'By the time we have the final figures, it could well be that measles cases have doubled this year compared to last year.'

Dr Mary Ramsay, consultant in public health at the HPA, said: 'We are not seeing evidence of a major epidemic of measles - we don't think we are going to have one yet.

'But I think we will tend to have more outbreaks, and the size of those outbreaks may get bigger. We are concerned about low uptake of MMR, but there may be a question about the accuracy of some of the data from London.

'We think the picture may not be as bad as it seems but, even so, the levels of uptake are still too low.'

Yesterday, the Royal College of GPs said it was deeply concerned about the low uptake. Measles is spread by close contact and tends to thrive in the winter months. Spokesman Dr George Kassianos said: 'GPs would like to see 95 per cent coverage with MMR in all communities.

'Once we get that, we can rest. At the moment we are on our guard and keeping an eye out for measles infections.'

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