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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Row over MMR effectiveness
The MMR vaccine remains controversial
Government health officials have rejected research which suggests the controversial MMR vaccine may leave many children unprotected from disease.

MMR is designed to protect children from the potentially serious diseases measles, mumps and rubella.

When MMR is introduced it dramatically reduces the number of cases of measles, mumps and rubella

Department of Health
However, tests carried out by a private clinic on 50 children who had received the combined vaccine showed that half were not fully immunised against measles and mumps.

The blood tests were carried out by scientists from the Direct Health 2000 clinic in Eltham, south London.

The clinic offers single vaccinations as an alternative to MMR to parents willing to pay for them.

Scientists found that 25 of the children had zero or very low immunity against mumps and measles.

Sarah Dean, director of Direct Health 2000, said: "This means there could be a lot of children who think they have got the umbrella protection to the three diseases by having MMR, but their bodies have not built up immunity to measles or mumps."

The clinic believes that young children's immune systems simply cannot cope with more than one virus at a time - MMR administers small doses of three.

Totally misleading

However, a Department of Health spokesman said the suggestion that MMR was not effective was "totally misleading".

"It is carried out in 90 countries around the world and we know that when MMR is introduced it dramatically reduces the number of cases of measles, mumps and rubella.

"From previous extensive studies, around five to 10% of children do not receive full immunity after their first jab which is why we always recommend a second booster jab at school."

He said the study was only carried out on a small sample of children.

Neither had it been published in a scientific journal or validated by researchers.

"These tests were carried out by a clinic which has a vested interest in selling single vaccines. They should be treated with extreme caution.

"If the level of protection were as low as Direct Health 2000 claims it is after MMR, we would not have record low levels of measles and mumps in children who've had these vaccines."

Before the MMR vaccine was introduced in 1988 there were 76,000 cases of measles and 16 deaths per year.

Since 1992 there have been no deaths from measles and only 100 cases last year.

Uptake of the jab has fallen since concerns were first raised in 1998 that it was linked to a rise in autism and bowel disorders. This link has been dismissed by the Department of Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and many leading scientists.

Immunisation rates have fallen to below recommended WHO levels, promoting fears that the immunity of the whole population could be threatened.

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