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Demand for single measles jab soars
Measles single vaccines
There is a shortage of measles vaccines
There has been a huge surge in demand for the single measles vaccine in the UK amid concern over the safety of the MMR vaccine, the BBC has learned.

There was a nine-fold increase in the take-up of single measles vaccines between May-December last year compared with the same period the previous year, according to the Medical Controls Agency.


There are a growing number of parents calling for the single vaccine as an alternative to the MMR

The BBC's Sharon Allcock
Demand is so high that clinics are reporting a worldwide shortage of the vaccine, said the agency.

And conversely the take-up of the MMR vaccine is down, latest figures indicate.

This is despite moves by the government to allay fears about the safety of the controversial combined vaccine.

England's Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson has warned switching to a single measles jab would put more children at risk.

Public health officials are meanwhile investigating a measles outbreak in Barnet, north London with one confirmed case and five suspected cases linked to a school.

Summer peak

The average number of packs of single measle vaccines imported into the UK averaged 1,050 per month in the period May to December 2001.

In the same period in 2000, the average figure was just 115 packs.

Tony Blair and Leo
Tony Blair has said the MMR was safe enough for his son Leo

However, this surge in demand is still dwarfed by the 9m doses of MMR that have been administered since the vaccine was introduced in 1988.

A company which supplies single vaccines for measles mumps and rubella says it is running short of supplies.

IDIS World Medicines which is based in Surrey says it is trying to find new sources of the vaccines to meet demand.

It hopes to get more stocks within a fortnight. However, it warned parents who were considering paying for separate jabs to get in touch with the clinics which offer them to check their stocks.

Health Specialist Sharon Allcock said: "There are a growing number of parents calling for the single vaccine as an alternative to the MMR.

"We have not before been able to see the extent of that."

The Department of Health has confirmed 13,000 children in the UK received the single measles vaccine last year.

The MMR vaccine has been linked to autism and bowel disorders but the medical establishment says such a link does not exist.

Professor Donaldson said research suggesting the measles virus was found in the guts of autistic children was "riddled with flaws".

Medical warning

He has argued that splitting the vaccines would mean six separate jabs, leave some children unprotected and create conditions for the resurgence of measles, mumps, rubella and associated complications.

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson
Professor Donaldson warns of playing Russian roulette with children's lives
If a single vaccination programme was introduced, he said: "We would have to accept the certainty of more cases of these diseases."

He continued: "We would literally be playing Russian roulette with our children's health."

His comments were echoed by Health Secretary Alan Milburn, who told the BBC Today programme on Friday: "What we should concentrate on is the central issue, and that is how to protect children in this country from what are dangerous, and can sadly be deadly diseases.

"The best way of doing that, as we know not just from the experience in this country but from 90 countries across the world where there have been 500m doses of MMR vaccine given out, is through the MMR vaccine - it is the safest, and most proven way of protecting children from these very dangerous diseases."

Dr Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat health spokesman warned some of those promoting the single vaccine may have a vested commercial interest.

"In the interests of transparency, doctors and company directors who stand to gain financially from greater take up of single vaccinations must declare their financial interest.

So far 11 cases of measles have been confirmed in children in Streatham, south London, where vaccine take-up levels are among the UK's lowest.

Tests are being carried out on 18 suspected cases.

None of the infected children had the MMR jab.

Four cases have also been detected in the Gateshead and South Tyneside area.

UK-wide the take-up of the MMR jab fell to a record low between July and September with a coverage rate of just 84.2%. The recommended rate is 95%.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Smith
"The number of children getting the single measles jab has rocketed"
Dr Peter Dukes, Medical Research Council
"There is no link between MMR and autism"
Judith Barnard, The National Autistic Society
"We need more research"
Health secretary Alan Milburn
"Of course we will continue to consider any evidence that comes before us"

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See also:

08 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
07 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | Health
06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
07 Feb 02 | Health
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