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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 18:38 GMT
Single measles jab rejected
Health professionals have mixed views on the second MMR jab
Health professionals have mixed views on the second MMR jab
The government has rejected calls for a single vaccine to be introduced for measles amid continuing concern over the combined MMR jab.

Campaigners claim that the combined vaccine - for measles, mumps and rubella - is linked to autism and bowel disease.

This is a safe vaccine

Dr David Salisbury, Government immunisation programme
However, the world's biggest ever study by Finnish researchers has found no evidence of such a link.

And Dr David Salisbury, the head of the government immunisation programme, has warned that parents who opt for single dose vaccines are putting their children at unnecessary risk.

He said: "Japan has a single vaccine programme and they have had epidemics of measles.

"We do not want to go down that route. Single vaccine programmes do not work.

"Every single concern about the MMR vaccine has been looked at in great detail over and over again.

"All of the research says this is a safe vaccine."

The government warned last week that MMR immunisation rates in the UK had fallen dangerously low - in some places down to 75%.

Health experts say this increases the likelihood of a measles epidemic.

Finnish study

The Finnish researchers followed nearly two million children for 14 years after they were given the measles, mumps and rubella injection.

Dr David Salisbury
Dr David Salisbury said the vaccine was safe
They found no link between the vaccine with autism or bowel disease.

Writing in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, the scientists concluded: "Comprehensive analysis of the reported adverse reactions established that serious events causally related to the MMR vaccine are rare and greatly outweighed by the risks of natural MMR diseases."

The original link between MMR and autism was made by Dr Andrew Wakefield, of London's Royal Free Hospital.

He is due to publish new research soon which claims that the MMR vaccine was not tested properly before its introduction.

Government experts have rejected that claim.

Meanwhile, a separate report in the British Medical Journal suggests that half of doctors, nurses and health visitors have "reservations" about giving toddlers the second MMR jab.

A significant proportion of practice nurses surveyed believed that the vaccination could be linked with either autism or bowel disease.

However, doctors were more concerned about the timing of the second jab, rather than its safety.

Two doses

The first MMR vaccination is given to children aged between 12 and 15 months.

MMR vaccine
Many parents decide against vaccination
The second vaccination is intended to catch out those who missed out on the first round of jabs, and those for whom the first vaccination did not work.

North Wales public health doctors who carried out the study are calling for better education for health professionals.

The Department of Health the BMJ study was two years out of date.

Anne Coote, a founder member of the pressure group Jabs, said the number of contrasting reports published on the subject put parents in a difficult position.

"There's lots of reports that keep coming out, and this is the problem.

"The government will fetch out one report to say that MMR is fine and they've not got a problem with it, and then some other medical researcher will come out and say there's a suspicion about MMR and more research needs to be done, so the parent is piggy-in-the-middle."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said it was important MMR immunisation rates were increased to prevent an epidemic.

He accused the government of failing to reassure the public adequately.

Around 2,000 families in Britain have taken legal action claiming their children have been damaged by the jab, with many believing it has triggered autism.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"At thirty-five pounds per injection, it's not cheap"
Edinburgh GP, Dr Peter Copp
"I became concerned about the level of measles vaccinations quite some time ago"
See also:

12 Jan 01 | Health
MMR debate: Mothers' stories
04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles outbreak warning
04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles: The Irish experience
04 Jan 01 | Health
Q&A: Measles, mumps and rubella
16 Sep 99 | Health
MMR: A needless dilemma?
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