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Last Updated: Friday, 26 September, 2003, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
MMR uptake falls to record low
MMR uptake
MMR coverage has fallen to its lowest level since the jab's introduction, official figures have revealed.

They show that, last year, 82% of two-year-olds had been given the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine - the worst uptake since 1989.

In the worst areas fewer than 60% of children are vaccinated - leading to fears of serious measles outbreaks.

Ministers claim more recent surveys suggest that MMR uptake may actually have increased in recent months.

MMR remains the choice for eight out of 10 parents
Health minister Melanie Johnson
The MMR figures formed part of general statistics on childhood immunisation released by the government.

Senior doctors blame media claims about the safety of the jab for the collapse in immunisation rates over the last five years.

In the late 1990s, some scientists suggested MMR might be linked to autism and bowel disease.

However, no research has ever proved a link, and the overwhelming majority of experts believe the vaccine is safe.

MMR coverage peaked at 92% in 1995 to 1996. By 2001 to 2002, the figure had dropped to 84%.

This year's figure for MMR uptake is the lowest since the late 1980s when the immunisation was being phased in across the country.

Official targets say 95% of children should be immunised against MMR, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) by their second birthday to protect the wider population from the risk of epidemics.

These latest figures show 94% of children had been immunised against diphtheria and tetanus, and 93% had been immunised against polio, whooping cough and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib).

Single vaccine

The fall in MMR vaccination rates has been linked to parental fears over the jab.

The Department of Health does not collect data on the use of the single measles vaccine, so any children who received it will not be covered in these statistics.

Data was collected from primary care organisation across England.

They showed only 20 of 284 had MMR coverage of over 90%.

Vaccination rates for meningitis C are gradually rising, with 92% of children immunised by their second birthday, up from 85% in 2001 to 2002.

In addition, about 449,000 people including 53,000 infants under one had been given BCG vaccinations to protect them from tuberculosis.

'Encouraging'

Despite the grim official figures, health minister Melanie Johnson said the evidence showed MMR uptake was increasing.

"The figures show the overwhelming majority of parents and carers are choosing MMR as the best way to protect their children from these serious diseases.

"From April last year to March this year we did see an average 2% drop in uptake over the 12 month period.

"However, we know from the Health Protection Agency's quarterly data published yesterday that since January this year MMR uptake has held without a drop.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that MMR is the most effective and the safest way to protect our children
Dr Natasha Crowcroft, Health Protection Agency
"MMR remains the choice for eight out of 10 parents."

Ms Johnston added that HPA data indicated the number of children receiving MMR at 16 months of age suggests a 6% rise in uptake levels between March and August this year.

"This research is encouraging. It has in the past proved to be an accurate indicator of national vaccination trends and suggests that we are seeing a renewed confidence among parents and carers that MMR is the best way to protect children."

The latest vaccine coverage data released by the HPA shows that MMR uptake for children reaching 24 months of age between April and June 2003 is stable at 78.9 percent in the UK.

Increase predicted

Dr Natasha Crowcroft of the HPA said the new data should be treated with some caution as it is the first time coverage has been evaluated using data from primary care trusts instead of health authorities, which covered different populations.

But she said the figures indicated there would be an increase in the number of children being given MMR uptake by the time next year's figures are published.

She added: "There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that MMR is the most effective and the safest way to protect our children."

Dr Evan Harris MP said: "These figures show the risk of a measles epidemic is becoming greater.

"Commentators have a duty to reflect the overwhelming scientific consensus in favour of MMR, rather than promote the myth of divided scientific opinion on its safety for the sake of sensationalism."


SEE ALSO:
How do you sell MMR?
26 Sep 03  |  Health
MMR vaccine rate falls
19 Sep 02  |  Health
MMR 'should be compulsory'
03 Jul 02  |  BMA Conference
Measles explosion predicted
08 Aug 03  |  Health


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