Wednesday, September 15, 1999 Published at 20:16 GMT 21:16 UK
Children face epidemic fear
Some parents fear the effects of immunisation
There is a "serious danger" of a measles, mumps and rubella epidemic if immunisation levels are allowed to drop any further, the government's Chief Medical Officer Liam Donaldson has warned.
"There is a serious danger if levels of immunisation continue to fall that we will see a resurgence of epidemics of these three diseases."
Currently 87% of Britain's population is immunised, below the World Health Organisation's 95% level preferred to keep the diseases under control, Dr Donaldson said.
Although there was little strong evidence for the theory and much larger studies have since shown there to be no such link, some parents refused to let doctors give their children the injection.
At the time, doctors warned that the dangers of not having the vaccine were far greater than any theoretical risk of autism or bowel disorders.
As immunisation rates dropped off by 10% following the scare, they feared the return of the three diseases that had taken so long to bring under control.
Some doctors have suggested that the vaccine be made compulsory, considering the potentially devastating effects of the diseases.
Dr Donaldson is the latest figure to add his voice to the debate.
As recently as the early 1980s, measles was killing about 17 British children a year.
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.
Dr Donaldson said: "We are very anxious to ensure parents are aware of the risks of these diseases and the safe and effective protection for their children is the MMR vaccine."