BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Friday, 4 January, 2002, 12:13 GMT
Measles outbreak fears spread
Some parents fear MMR causes autism
Doctors fear that measles could sweep towns in north-west England as parents turn away from the controversial MMR vaccine.

North Cheshire Health Authority (NCHA) says that coverage with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in Widnes, Runcorn and Hale has dropped to only 77%.

This is well below the national average - and about the same level as in Dublin last year when there was a serious measles outbreak.

Public health experts say that anything below 80% over a prolonged period means there is the opportunity for a measles outbreaks to get a foothold in the community as more and more children go unvaccinated.

Measles, in very rare cases, can prove fatal.

Some parents have been reluctant to have their babies immunised due to concerns the vaccine may be linked to autism and bowel disorders, despite a lack of any reliable evidence of this.

Prime minister Tony Blair recently refused to bow to political and media pressure to say whether his youngest son Leo had been given the triple Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccination.

There is a very real chance of children catching this killer disease this winter if they are not protected with the MMR vaccine

Dr Bernard Schlecht, NCHA
Nationally, the NHS aims to maintain a rate of 95% of children covered by the MMR vaccine.

North Cheshire Health Authority fears the rate will drop further still unless swift action is taken.

It has responded by spearheading a huge publicity campaign.

Strong protection

NCHA's consultant in communicable disease control Dr Bernard Schlecht said: "There is a very real chance of children catching this killer disease this winter if they are not protected with the MMR vaccine.

"Recent media stories have been confusing and caused unnecessary alarm.

"The simple truth is that MMR is extremely safe, safe enough to be used in every country in the world, except Japan.

"I had no hesitation in having my own child vaccinated and I urge all parents to do the same."

After just two doses of the MMR vaccine, 99% of children are fully protected against all three diseases.

The national uptake of the vaccine is currently is 84.6%, which is down from a peak of 92% in 1995.

Measles causes death in up to one in 2,500 cases.

It is also associated with meningitis and encephalitis - inflammation of the brain.

Warnings about the potential for measles outbreaks have already been issued in parts of London where the MMR coverage rate has dropped to similar levels.

Two years ago, an outbreak in Dublin claimed the lives of two children and left hundreds more hospitalised.

Mumps complications include inflammation of the pancreas and damage to the nervous system.

In pregnant women, rubella has a 90% chance of damaging the foetus and babies can be born blind, deaf, with heart problems or brain damage.

Dr Bernard Schlecht, North Cheshire Health Auth.
"We're at levels where an epidemic can happen"
Dr Elizabeth Miller, Public Health Laboratory
"The majority of young children are being vaccinated"
See also:

23 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair's MMR statement in full
23 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Blair 'should admit MMR jab'
13 Dec 01 | Health
MMR and autism 'not linked'
02 Dec 01 | England
MMR research doctor resigns
04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles: The Irish experience
04 Jan 01 | Health
Measles outbreak warning
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories