Saturday, August 28, 1999 Published at 03:57 GMT 04:57 UK
Measles and mumps vaccines banned
The single-dose jabs may be ineffective, says the government
The government has banned the only alternative to the controversial triple measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination for children.
The Medicines Control Agency (MCA) has outlawed the importation of older, single-dose measles and mumps vaccines on "safety grounds".
A string of recent studies, however, showed that such a link does not exist.
Single jabs 'don't work'
"Under law, unlicensed medicines should not be imported when a safe and effective licensed alternative is available," it said.
Measles epidemic feared
The move is being seen as an attempt to stop the drop-off in parents taking their child for the MMR vaccination.
This in turn has brought warnings from public health officials that by 2002 a new measles epidemic could threaten the country.
The Public Health Laboratory Service said earlier this month that only 87% of babies were being given the triple vaccine by the recommended age of 16 months, against the 95% needed to keep immunity levels high enough to safeguard against epidemic.
Unlicensed but available
The medical establishment believes that MMR is safe and effective.
Although some doctors have been willing to prescribe the single-dose vaccination on the NHS in the UK, many say they have done so reluctantly, under parental pressure.
But supporters of the single dose believe that it avoids the risks posed by the "cocktail" effect of the MMR jab, which is given on two occasions - in early infancy and a booster before the age of five.
And even if the single doses are banned in Britain, it is possible that parents will still be able to get them.
Although unlicensed in Europe, they are widely available, and some parents have reportedly been organising trips to France where a single-dose vaccination has been offered by doctors for £18.