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Blair signals support for MMR
MMR vaccination
MMR take-up is not meeting targets
Tony Blair has given his strongest hint yet that his baby son has had the controversial MMR triple vaccine as he attempted to allay fears over its safety.

His comments come as Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, prepares to hold a press conference to try to convince the public that the combined vaccine is safe.


Often scaremongering doesn't matter. In this case it does

Tony Blair
The prime minister said the vaccine was safe enough for young son Leo, while he was en route to Nigeria on Wednesday.

He said he hoped people realised that he would not ask or advise them to do something that he believed was dangerous to his own child.

"I may be many things but I would not do that", he said.

Strong evidence

Professor Donaldson will join the debate on Thursday morning when he will present what has been described as "compelling evidence" of the safety of the MMR vaccine.

He will warn that many parents would be unlikely to complete the course of six vaccinations that their children would need if separate jabs for measles, mumps and rubella were introduced.

He is also concerned that even if children do complete the course, they will be vulnerable to disease until they have had all six jabs.

And he will draw attention to the fact that before MMR was introduced 14 people died of measles a year in England and Wales.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Blair urged parents to ignore media "scaremongering" as he repeated government advice that the vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella - which has been linked to autism - is safe.

The Conservatives have called on the government to give parents the option of either an MMR jab or separate vaccinations.

Mr Blair told MPs the triple vaccine had been cleared by independent bodies including the British Medical Association and was in use in 90 countries around the world.

'Political football'

Speaking at Prime Minister's Question Time, Mr Blair said: "Scaremongering about this vaccine is wrong.

"Often scaremongering doesn't matter. In this case it does."

He said the position the Tories had taken on MMR was "totally irresponsible" and he warned MPs that the "safety of children was at risk".

The evidence showed not just that MMR was safe but that it was more effective than the single jabs for measles, mumps and rubella, Mr Blair added.

Earlier, Downing Street warned that lives were being put at risk as fewer children have the jab.

Tony Blair and Leo
Blair: protected son's privacy
Mr Blair's official spokesman called for some "perspective" on the issue, adding that it should not be a "political football".

The fresh assurances came as a further eight cases of measles were confirmed at an outbreak in south London.

Shadow health spokesman Liam Fox said, whether rightly or wrongly, the public had lost confidence in the government's policy on MMR - the controversial measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Reports in Wednesday's Sun newspaper suggested the government might change policy and allow parents to have the vaccines in separate doses.

Rethink denied

But the spokesman denied such a rethink, although he added that the medical evidence was continually under review.

The numbers of parents allowing their children to have the three-in-one jab has fallen sharply because of fears over a link with autism.

Dr Fox told the BBC that the fact that there was a drop-off in the number of children being given MMR had made the Conservatives rethink their policy.
Tory health spokesman Liam Fox
The Tories want parents to have choice

He argued that it was better that children had some protection than no protection at all.

Dr Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, told the BBC: "The problem with introducing single vaccines is that they are accepted, even by the Conservatives who are being rather opportunistic on this, as less effective and less safe."

The medical establishment has dismissed claims by some scientists and some parents of a possible link between the combined vaccine and autism and bowel disease in children.

But coverage of the debate has prompted concern that parents are panicking and not getting children inoculated.

Claims dismissed

The latest cases take to 11 the number of children confirmed with measles in the outbreak in Streatham, south London, where take-up levels of the vaccine are among the lowest in the UK.

None of the infected children had received the MMR jab.

Four cases have also been detected in the Gateshead and South Tyneside area, which has a 91.4% immunisation rate compared to the government's recommended 95%.

The latest figures show UK-wide take-up of the MMR jab fell to a record low between July and September last year with a coverage rate of just 84.2%.

A Health Department spokesman said that any rate below 95% did not give "herd immunity".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"It is the strongest hint yet"
Royal College of GPs spokesman Dr George Kassianos
"They have no found no evidence to link MMR with autism and bowel disease"

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See also:

06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | England
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
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