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The BBC's James Westhead
"Doctors are advising parents to vaccinate children before they return to school"
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Professor Brian Duerden
"The MMR vaccine is safe and effective"
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Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 11:53 GMT
Measles outbreak warning
There have been concerns about the safety of the measles vaccine
Government scientists are warning that children starting school next week face the risk of measles outbreaks.

The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) is concerned too few children are being immunised with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine.

This is thought to be due to parents' concerns that the vaccine may be linked to autism and bowel disorders.

What happened in Ireland is a tragic illustration of just how serious measles infection can be

Public Health Laboratory Service spokesman
A similar fall in the numbers of children being vaccinated led to an outbreak of measles in Ireland last year.

Two babies died and scores of children were hospitalised.


A PHLS spokesman told BBC News Online: "We have been concerned for some time about the low levels of MMR vaccine coverage.

"It is important for children to be vaccinated against these diseases.

"What happened in Ireland is a tragic illustration of just how serious measles infection can be. It can put some lives at risk."

Across the UK 88% of children are currently immunised against measles.

But in some districts the rate is much lower, down to 75%.

The PHLS is particularly concerned about London where uptake levels are low, and the population is highly mobile, increasing the possibility that measles infection will be introduced into the community.

MMR fear

The World Health Organization recommends 95% of people need to be immunised to ensure against a resurgence of the disease.

It's the combination effect we've got the concerns about

Jackie Fletcher, JABS
An expert group set up to investigate claims the MMR vaccine was linked to autism and inflammatory bowel disease found no evidence to support the theory.

Professor Brian Duerden, PHLS medical director, said: "I understand parents' concern because of the reports that came out saying there were side effects to it.

"There has been a lot of work done to look into that possibility. It has not confirmed that work at all, and has shown that here we have a safe and very effective vaccine that protects against serious disease."

However, Jackie Fletcher, founder of JABS, a group worried about the effects of vaccines on children, believes her son's brain damage could have been caused by the MMR jab.

She is calling for parents to have the option of choosing a single measles vaccine instead of the combined MMR jab.

"It's the combination effect we've got the concerns about.

"Putting together the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines there could be a new entity created, a virulent form that's more aggressive in a child's system."

She said 1,800 children were believed to have been damaged by MMR in the 12 years it has been in used, compared to 27 affected in around 20 years of the use of a single measles vaccine.

She accused the government of trying to "prop-up" their MMR campaign and added: "They need to reinstate the single measles jab so parents can have a choice and children can be safe-guarded."

Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride MP is trying to force the government to introduce a single vaccine for measles by introducing a Private Member's Bill.

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The single vaccine is not as effective and will not protect children as well as the MMR vaccine."

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See also:

04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles: The Irish experience
03 Apr 00 | Health
Vaccine 'does not cause autism'
27 Jun 00 | Health
DNA measles vaccine breakthrough
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Measles outbreak feared
03 Mar 00 | Health
Vaccine mask boosts measles fight
19 Mar 99 | Health
MMR fears raise rubella risk
04 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: Measles and MMR
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