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Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK


Britain warned of measles 'epidemic'

The MMR vaccine has been the subject of recent scares

Britain could face a measles epidemic by the year 2001, doctors are warning.

They say scares over the triple MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella have led to a fall in the number of parents opting to have their children vaccinated.

Professor Brian Duerden: "Children should be vaccinated"
Professor Brian Duerden of the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) told BBC Breakfast News that a recent scares about the MMR vaccine being linked to autism had led to a drop-off in take-up of the vaccine.

But he said an expert working group had investigated the claims about autism and had given the MMR vaccine "a clean bill of health".

PHLS figures show an initial fall in vaccinations following the first scare about autism was published in 1997.

But statistics released earlier this year show this subsequently levelled off, with 88% of parents opting to have their toddlers innoculated.

Since then, however, there have been new scare stories.

Moreover, the PHLS says the World Health Organisation recommends that vaccination should be at 95% to prevent a resurgence of disease.

[ image: Professor Brian Duerden said vaccination was important]
Professor Brian Duerden said vaccination was important
Professor Duerden warned parents may have forgotten the dangers associated with measles.

"Britain has been free of measles for the best part of a decade. It was a very serious illness and it is still killing many children in many parts of the world," he stated.

But he opposed the introduction of a compulsory vaccination programme to get around the scares.

Countries such as the US and France have tough policies on vaccination of children.

In the US, parents whose failure to vaccinate children cause public outbreaks can face prosecution.

The idea that compulsory vaccination might become "a morally justifiable option" in the UK, if vaccination levels continued to fall has been floated by Peter Bradley, a specialist registrar in public health medicine writing in The Journal of Medical Ethics.

But Professor Duerden said: "Britain has never had a policy of compulsory vaccination since the small pox vaccinations in the 19th century."

"And these were stopped at the beginning of the 20th century. We have relied on voluntary vaccinations.

"This has been very successful in the past and we have been able to almost eliminate illnesses like whooping cough.

"Compulsion is not on anyone's agenda in this country."

He said family doctors had to be given more support to get the message across about the importance of having the MMR vaccination.

The Department of Health issued a statement saying it had no plans to make MMR immunisation compulsory.


[ image: Parents are opting against vaccination]
Parents are opting against vaccination
As recently as the early 1980s, measles was killing about 17 British children a year.

However, it is more likely to lead to serious complications, particularly in the very young.

These can include pneumonia or bronchitis, convulsions, and even meningitis.

Mumps, characterised by painful and swollen glands in the head and neck, can cause permanent damage to the testicles, nervous system and hearing.

And rubella, or German Measles, if developed late in pregnancy, can lead to serious birth defects such as deafness, blindness, cardiac problems and brain damage.

The MMR vaccine, made from weakened versions of the three viruses, was introduced in 1988 and virtually eliminated measles, which had already been halved by the introduction in the 1970s of a single measles vaccine.

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